I usually come away from productions with pages of writing in my notebook: not so with Georgina Botham’s production of ‘A Girl in a Car With a Man’, for my eyes hardly ever left the stage. I was utterly transfixed. This gritty play links three storylines which intersect through involvement with a nationally publicised kidnapping and torture of a young girl. CCTV footage of the ‘girl in a car with a man’ is projected intermittently onto the back wall, never letting us forget the dark event that ties the plot together. It is ultimately the characters, however, who most forcefully enact this awareness of public scrutiny.
Although the tone of this piece defies definition, to me the play is not truly about the murder or the press, but about the impact of surveillance and of being watched. In a minimalist set, furnished only by mobile black stage blocks, it is the frantic energy of the cast alone that creates an intense sense of anxiety. By and large the use of physical theatre is neatly done, and contributes to the feeling of manipulation that every individual experiences at the hands of their fellow ‘citizens’. While actors not ‘onstage’ periodically become chorus-like members of the ‘audience’, pantomiming reactions to the ongoing scenes, the choice of a thrust stage within the black box maintains a feeling of claustrophobia. We watch the characters being watched.
The attention to detail in this production is phenomenal. Jonny Danciger and Jake Meyer’s sound is fantastic: backing tracks shift seamlessly in pitch as characters become variously more or less introverted, and lend continuity to each scene. Without exception, every actor in this play gives a standout performance. Ryan Lea and Kathleen Kelso have wonderful chemistry. I was as troubled by the animated solipsism of Kelso’s Stella as I was heartbroken by Lea’s David and his quiet grief. Louie Iselin’s Paula, obsessed with reels of CCTV footage and with the ‘blind spot’ of the city, gives a reflective heart to a stage characterised by projected identities. Cara Cox’s Policewoman is a convincing portrayal of someone more interested in her love life than with helping the city’s low-life. Ali Johnston’s character is perhaps the most difficult to interpret, but his narcissistic Alex snaps between anger and delight so energetically that he easily commands the audience’s attention.
The pacing at times is slightly jerky, a problem most evident in the opening scenes. Although this contributes to the general feeling of discomfort that the play naturally generates in its audience, tighter scene changes could make the connections between the three storylines more readily evident. The production did suffer from some opening night slips (a stage block stumble here, and a forgotten couple of lines there), but these will easily be ironed out throughout the run.
This is an incredibly ambitious piece to take on, but Botham and her cast and crew can be assured that their work is a triumph. By and large the use of physical theatre is neatly done, and contributes to the feeling of manipulation that every individual experiences at the hands of their fellow ‘citizens’. I left the theatre with a pervading sense of disquiet and pensiveness, but I woke up this morning with my head still full of the low hum of the rain and cassette recorders that resounded throughout the piece.
A link to the footage which plays continuously throughout the piece can be found here.