Entering the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, we notice a playing card left on each of our seats, scattered across the audience’s empty pews as if we are joining, halfway through, a game that has already begun. This feeling lingers, as we are presented with a highly hectic hour of shop owner and amateur actress Alice’s day, when we are faced with a feeling of being as much of an interruption as fan Viv is; and there’s never a point where we truly understand quite why we’re there.
It begins with a strangely dressed mannequin, stood slightly crookedly by the dusty counter of an old magic shop. After a moment, a figure glides onstage, and shows us something, held carefully in his hand. He slips out quietly and we watch the empty space, wondering what exactly it was. We’re given only a second before the lights come up and Alice (Kristin McIlquham) bursts through the door, filling the dusty shop with a vibrant energy as she chats manically to a friend on the phone. She’s late, she’s bored, and she’s desperate for her shot at fame- which soon presents itself in the form of a critical self-tape with a ticking time limit. We’re swept into a slightly bumbling, erratic madness involving an elusive magician, an enthusiastic superfan and a mysterious box kept locked away in the back…
ESCAPOLOGY begins on an eerie note, but really, it wants to be a farce- there are moments of real comedy as the world seems to go out of its way to ruin Alice’s day (and, as she repeatedly expresses, her hopes and dreams, too), and the shops seems to swap magic for jokes; McIlquham provides the most comedy as a twitching, distracted Alice, unable to see beyond the importance of a self-tape audition, and the piece remains a step away from a fast-paced, manic comedy that undoubtedly the actors would be able to provide- but it never quite hits the mark. Though the performers inject as much life as they can into the dusty old shop (and there are some quick-witted one liners from Lockwood that do make me laugh out loud), the piece trips and lulls at certain points, and our energy as an audience drains far quicker than it should.
Doe-eyed Viv (the delightful Eilidh Nairn)’s sweet nature battling the force of a very frazzled Alice draws out some wonderfully comic moments, but what has the potential to be a profound human connection between the two women is never truly explored, and we are left feeling a little unsatisfied, knowing far less about the characters than one would expect after spending an hour together. I’m uncertain as to who’s making the escape in this magic show- Alice is far too involved with her day’s goal to dwell on real feelings of entrapment, and Viv, backpack and flask of tea at the ready, is clearly somewhat of a carefree wanderer, happy to unfold her portable camping chair wherever required; so who is it that is desperate to be set free? And if it’s something to do with that peculiar box, why is it that the object becomes somewhat of a side note, overshadowed by the relationship between the two women?
The strengths of this short piece of new writing lie in the excellent performances of McIlquham, Nairn and Lockwood; they are genuine comic relief, and work well together on stage; but the story itself lacks a feeling of real purpose and meaning, and we are left wondering what the stakes were, and why – like a trick gone wrong – there is a feeling of anticlimax, and slight confusion, as the lights fall.