Just written by Ali Smith
Directed by Lucy Cuthbertson
Produced and choreographed by Shermaine Slocombe
Performed by Corelli Theatre Company
Ali Smith’s Just is a fine example of powerful and brazen absurdist theatre. A brief synopsis is hard to render but here it is. Victoria, an innocent teenager waiting at a bus stop is ever-so-suddenly charged with murdering someone by stabbing them with an umbrella. A seemingly naive policeman, Albert, is the first to accuse and arrest her, but it is a blind-folded Mrs. Wright, along with an ensemble of manically enthusiastic and conformist townspeople who officially find her guilty.
Smith’s work conjures up all kinds of George Orwell’s 1984-related ideas, including propaganda, conformity, corruption etc. but rather than reel on and on about this fascinating and intelligent creation of Smith’s, I feel that I simply must now spout out the copious compliments I have for Cuthbertson and her supreme cast.
The evening upon which I have kindly been invited to witness Just, is a scorching hot and rather uncomfortable one. For quite a large group of parents and teachers etc. to enter into a black-box-esque venue and watch, clearly not the most accessible piece of absurdist theatre on such an evening is not, I would suggest, the best setting. Corelli Theatre Company, therefore, are to be hugely commended for merely grabbing our attention so professionally and captivatingly between programme fanning and brow dabbing.
Just is, despite its chilling and dark side, extremely funny, and Cuthbertson has managed to pull out ‘just’ the right amount of humour and sobriety from her extremely talented cast. Smith’s work is a terrific piece of theatre for a group of twelve to eighteen year olds to explore from an educational perspective, both from a political and acting view. It is not something, however, which would come easily to all young companies.
Corelli Theatre Company are on point. They are confident, slick, professional, grounded, unified and honest. They appear to have a brilliant understanding of the rhythm and flow of the piece. Cuthbertson has been careful not to let the buoyancy of the piece diminish at any given point, but has made plenty of room for light and shade. The ensemble have a hard task. They speak predominantly as one body, devoid of independent thoughts. Masses of speeches in unison can often become tedious and monotonous; stale sometimes. This is not the case here, however. Another strong example of good direction from Cuthbertson is that she has ensured that the cast speak perfectly as one – not one company member drops the ball. She has also found variation and sincerity in what they say, keeping us interested.
The three main protagonists, Victoria (Edie Friar), Albert (Ciaron Farrell) and Mrs. Wright (Joanna Szlendak), have quite the feat before them here. All three handle their roles with professionalism and gravitas. The character of Mrs. Wright is not named without pointed reason, I’m sure, and Szlendak has made very clear, comfortable and authoritative choices about her physicality – something which I would not always expect from a younger performer, and must be commended. Farrell as Albert also gives a calm, controlled, and fitting portrayal of the slightly simple, yet likeable copper. Edie Friar as Victoria is quite simply excellent. She gives a very natural, yet energised, and extremely believable performance, which, almost ironically, fits in perfectly with this bizarre piece of theatre.
What must be said about every single member of the company is that they are extremely confident, yet grounded, which is extremely appealing from an audience’s point of view, and something that many older actors still struggle to achieve. They also clearly enjoy what they are doing, which again is ever so pleasing to watch.
Corelli Theatre Company should be very proud of themselves for producing a truly top notch production of an extremely offbeat piece of theatre. I believe that they will have a terrific time in Edinburgh, and thoroughly entertain and intrigue their audiences.
By David Richards