[2011016] Skip Miller’s Hit Songs

Skip Miller’s Hit Songs [FringeTIX]

Brink Productions @ Odeon Theatre

7:30pm, Mon 14 Feb 2011

There’s something special about a Brink production; maybe it’s the calibre, or the refinement, or the tone of the performances that lingers with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Skip Miller’s Hit Songs ticks all of those boxes… and more.

Skip Miller is a frontline photographer, taking pictures of the tragedies befalling millions in Africa. Though lauded with awards, he’s always searching for the next Best Shot – but finds himself becoming more and more emotionally distanced from his subjects… and everyone else. The play flits back and forth between the past, where he rambles through Liberia and Guinea with Basel (a young boy eager for the opportunity to escape the refugee camps in search of his mother and sisters), and the present: a domestic quagmire where Skip is gutted by his reporter girlfriend, and cultures clash between Skip’s brother and the subject of one of Skip’s greatest photos, Patience… who struggles to reconcile the fact that her face is now on every billboard.

The first thing you notice, settling into the comfy seats at The Odeon, is the three-man band parked to the left of the stage; they were magnificent throughout, the texturing they added with their African and Western instruments being almost imperceptible at times, and powerful when required. The second thing you notice is that the stage floor is a sandpit – a huge, heavy sandpit.

The third thing you notice is the lighting.

Oh, the lighting!

As the play opens, the cast wander across the stage, holding sheets of paper in front of them; from the back of the theatre, African faces are projected onto the paper, following the actors as they walk (or, more likely, the other way around). It’s a stunning effect, but easily forgotten by the lighting design that follows it.

Shards of light create fragments of space for the actors to perform in, for those offstage to hide in; projections on the back wall create a teeming refugee exodus, of memories and hopes. I’ve raved about Geoff Cobham on this blog before, but this is an amazing body of work – clever design and cunning direction as one.

The actors, too, are almost faultless – sure, it took a couple of minutes for my Anglo-ears to settle into the unfamiliar inflexions in the African trio’s voices, but that’s my problem, not theirs. The performances were spot on; Mondli Makhoba’s hospital segment was fantastic; Adolphus Waylee’s shattered rage at being photographed stunning. And Chris Pitman’s seemingly-bipolar Skip Miller was fantastic – equal parts ebullient and morose, confident and terrified. His hot’n’cold relationship with Lizzy Falkland’s Alison was wonderfully portrayed… but “wonderful” doesn’t feel like the right word, really, given the nature of the relationship.

In short: I loved Skip Miller’s Hit Songs. It features some wonderful performances – both onstage and off – and a strong, compelling story, and doesn’t feel the need to delve into melodrama for closure. And, even better, it has that Brink feel about it – proper theatre, with impeccable production values, for the same price as a Spiegeltent ticket. Massive kudos to all concerned.

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