[Review:] SHOOTOUT, White Bear Theatre, London.

Written by Niall McNamee and co-directed by McNamee and Peter Mulligan, Shootout was performed at the White Bear Theatre.

I shall start with set. The set for this performance was quite minimal but successfully created an ominous and surreal atmosphere. It involved a rope net, symbolic of football-goal netting; a sofa; and an analog TV displaying white noise. This made for a lively performance space in spite of its physical stasis, the noise patterns pervading and disrupting any darkness. Costume made for a realistic and identifiable aesthetic and was most effective for Conor Deane’s character, Simon, in the dream sequence. The added fake blood, whilst usually cheap-looking, here gave texture to the performance and was tremendously efficacious. Props were used effectively to denote, along with the dialogue, a location or location change, and quick transitions made for neat and organised cleanups.

However, on the topic of transitions, these were extremely clamorous. The loud, banging music and the stroboscopic lighting (tech operated by Jordan Rhys) was too intense in contrast with the dialogue-heavy and rather still scenes. This drama seemed better suited as the play went on and the story developed, and so I would advise that transitions be softer in the beginning and intensify towards the end: the visual of the white noise accompanied by a low-pass filtered audio would have been sufficient in early transitions. This audio could then build with the narrative and lead to the dramatic transitions we see throughout as the play stands now. In-scene transitions, however, which distinguish diegetic action from John’s (Ben Norris) monologues well, were slick and precise. Lighting was arranged well, and the distinctions blended together seamlessly.

In terms of monologues, there was only one moment I felt to be rather awkward and fallible, and this was Sarah’s (Olivia Warren) monologue, not only because of the offered topography but also because of Warren’s delivery and the writing itself. Warren seemed unable to decide whom she was addressing this monologue to, her eyes wandering around the audience until they met Norris’s where they stayed awhile and then dropped to the floor. This felt too political yet in its content matter yet was too contextualised (in her references to the other characters) to be addressed to the audience, making it incongruous with this otherwise narrative-based performance. Its message was too explicit and broke away from the fictitious narrative, and not in an effective way. It also felt that she had not had enough stage time to warrant a monologue to herself, her character seeming underdeveloped and more facilitative than integral.

Acting, on the whole, was convincing and coherent, and the overdramatic style in places offered comedy and personality, if a little too much in places. Ben Norris’s monologue deliveries were very good, and he alternated smoothly and inconspicuously between the two audiences. Placing him in the front corner of the stage was an apt and seemly idea. Norris and Deane’s fighting was questionable, as stage-fighting always seems to be, and needed to have been longer, not only for smoothness but to dramatise Simon’s death more effectively. The death’s suddenness and unrealism is perhaps why spectators laughed — I would imagine that, instead, shock and intrigue was the desired effect here. Not to mention it would be impossible for Simon to shout, “I can’t breathe” if he couldn’t breathe. Attention to detail in delivery is important.

The writing was very fine-tuned, modern and well-structured, and it was effective to fragment and surrealise the dramatic text, for this added intrigue, development and dynamism. Again, however, the main issue was intensification. Scenes were relatively slow and most dialogue, humorous as it was, could see drastic cuts, specifically in the dream scene wherein dialogue was far too long and explicit.

I should note that ‘toxic masculinity’ seems to be advertised as the main focal point of this performance, which I would not say is the case; it is more of a recurring theme. I would also be wary of how themes of misogyny are portrayed in a performance. Without being deliberately corrected, these come across as normalised and glorified within the world of the play, and this is not desirable or appropriate. It was difficult to decipher if the play aimed to extend beyond fiction and into didacticism, but if this was the case, this was not successful. I am afraid Sarah’s not-so-powerful monologue is not enough to contextualise or politicise this theme. The playtext not only refers to [binary] genders but sporadically treats disability as well — Emma’s (Sarah Cullum) reference to deaf people, for example. I would be careful to treat these without careful consideration of their (e/a)ffect and their context within the performance. It was inappropriate to treat these topics in this way without corrective self-referenciality.

“An engaging and visually very appealing performance but in need of pace modification, politicisation and technical adjustments.”

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