A modern story of love, doubt, obsession and art, Cover My Tracks, directed by Max Webster and performed at the Old Vic Theatre, is an outstanding and unmissable piece of contemporary theatre.
This is truly one of the best performances I have seen for a very long time. Written beautifully by David Greig, Cover My Tracks focuses on the disappearance of rock band songwriter Frank (Charlie Fink) and, moreover, its effect on the protagonist, Sarah (Jade Anouka). Whilst somewhat unnaturalistic in places in performance, Greig’s language is expressive, allusive and visceral, encapsulated well by the incredible performance by Anouka. This writing is paired efficaciously with the equally evocative — and sometimes provocative — lyrics to the songs written by Charlie Fink played throughout.
I shall start with music by saying that these songs had character and personality, sweet, romantic, lost and comical. Whilst, I must admit, there were a pinch of vocals that were out of key, Fink seldom faltered in his vocal performance. His voice was mellifluous and melodic and carried the music’s personality. Any potential repetitiveness of his playing the guitar was alleviated by synthesised strings, and I felt this was a careful and beneficial decision. Though the music operated within a clear genre, I could not help but feel it was at times samey, using the same chord progressions, some songs sounding similar to their precedent, but this was not too much of an issue.
This play has been likened to gig theatre, and I can see where this is coming from. The very first scene, Fink enters, guitar in hands and sits upon a chair behind a readied microphone. The audience hesitantly applauded — a clear indication that the room could sense a different type of set-up from the usual play. And this sense mainly came from the staging: a raised platform, and floor lights and a chord of light bulbs lying on the floor in front. And when Fink was left alone on stage, his solitude and personal lyrics created an essence of intimacy, one which could, indeed, be found at a gig.
Moreover, I felt that these moments also served as a clever interlude between ‘scenes’, creating a sense of passing of time for Sarah as well as relieving the audience of a demanding, physical and energetic narrative. This brings me on to characterisation. Anouka’s performance was astounding. She managed to capture a vast range of emotions, seamlessly flowing between each one without awkward over-performance — a trap so easy for actors to fall into. Whilst her portrayal of anger was perhaps a bit too shouty sometimes, her transformation from one character to another was captivating, humorous and charming. The odd slip-up where one of her caricatures’ voices would merge with her true character’s, but this was rare.
Her costume – blue dungarees, boots – conjured a childlike innocence, capturing her ponderous, obliging and sweet personality. It also gave her a sense of playfulness, complementing her gestures of climbing, dancing, and intensifying her moments of depression, lying on the edge of the stage, curled up in a ball.
As for Frank’s character, I felt that a real consideration of his presence was lacking quite a bit. As it stood, Frank was constantly on stage, sometimes looking at Sarah whilst she spoke to him; other times, looking away. And as he spoke he would make miniature expressions. I felt that it would have been more effective to stick with either looking or not looking at Sarah, emoting fully or not at all. I felt that the ambiguity of his being dead or alive could have been played with more, Having him silhouetted, facing away, or unlit and re-lit in specific moments would have served the nature of his elusiveness more. In other words, his presence came across as confused and ineffective. He needed to either have been presented on stage as an emotionless voice, speaking fragments from past conversations, or as a detailed moving image pulled from her memory. Additionally, as for his costume, I felt that a suit was not too reminiscent of a rock singer…the idea of their lack of interaction and static co-existence on stage, however, I felt, was most effective.
As for visuals, props were kept to a serious minimum in this performance, which complemented Anouka’s energy, and lighting (designed by Lee Curran) served as another reminder of that “gig” feel: cold blues and sharp whites. I thought the lighting at the end of the performance was particularly effective. The blues disappeared, representing a closure that had come to be for Sarah, and we were left with a natural wash. And when she took back to the guitar, the blue tints returned as though the memories of her performances were coming back to her. Very effective.
Overall, I felt that this was a marvelous performance. Jade Anouka’s characterisation of Sarah was incredible. The writing of both the play itself and the music was visual and transporting. The only downers were the bipartite pattern that this play fell into — monologues from Anouka, and solos from Fink and the (non-)presence of Frank. A must-see, I believe!