Eight @ Trafalgar Studios, London

cast list
Michael Whitham, Gwendolen von Einsiedel, Simon Ginty, Holly McLay, Alice Bonifacio, Ishbel McFarlane, Solomon Mousley, Henry Peters, Kerri Hall, Alex Marx

written and directed by
Ella Hickson
Ella Hickson’s Eight won a Fringe First when it premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008.

The title refers to eight monologues, of which only four are performed. The choice is made by the audience via the website or on a consol in the theatre foyer.

In a nod to the plays themes, the audience picks which of the human dramas it wants to see as easily as online shopping or a reality show vote.

This should mean the show is different every night and reflects the mood of the audience as well as the director, however I wonder how many of the people in the foyer before me actually read the blurbs as they queued up.
Each character is a twenty-something struggling with some aspect of their life, whether its relationships, motherhood, sexuality or obsession. What links them is their struggle to “muster belief in themselves or the world around them.”

The eight characters sit motionless in rows, moving forward like robots when their picture flicks up centre stage. With the animated images and the position of the chairs the impression is of a large human snack machine.

First is Bobby, a 22 year old, mother of two (Holly McLay). After being sacked from Tesco for stealing, Bobby has got a new job helping an older, middle class woman prepare for Christmas. In a slightly obvious nod to our obsession with TV chefs, the character is called ‘Mrs Beeton’ and teaches Bobby about all that is magical and delicious smelling about Christmas. Like a real life Jamie’s Christmas special, Bobby struggles to recreate the feeling of Mrs Beeton’s Christmas for her own children and reacts angrily.

The piece is filled with the anger of a generation coming of age and painfully aware that they will never have the opportunities or affluence that their parents enjoyed.

The second monologue is 18 year old Jude, sent off to the South of France by his father to ‘walk away a boy and return a man’. We learn of his crush on the older, sophisticated owner of the house he is staying in known as ‘The heavenly hostess’.

Simon Ginty, as Jude, captures brilliantly the idealism and hormones of an 18 year old and challenges our cultural obsession with youthful beauty.

Thirdly is Astrid, who has just returned home from cheating on her long term boyfriend because she feels ‘invisible’. This feels the most emotionally charged and real monologue of the four, thanks in part to the confident performance of Gwendolen von Eisiedel.

Finally, Andre, a 28 year old (Michael Whitham) who has just discovered his boyfriend’s body. He has committed suicide using a Hermes scarf in their art gallery and is currently ‘dribbling all over an Emin print’. Although it lacks a little emotional depth, the light comic touch of both the writer and actor make this one of the most appealing pieces.

While the subjects explored are nothing new; the apathy and soul searching of youth questioning what has come before, and their lack of faith in anything, the short performance is hugely engaging. There is no doubt that writer and director Ella Hickson and her twenty-somthing cast and crew are ones to watch.

It is refreshing to see theatre reflecting the views and challenges of a generation so eloquently written and performed by the very people it depicts, rather than a middle aged author. Although it paints a depressing picture of life in 2009, work like this gives us hope of how this may shape the future generation for good rather than bad

As Hickson writes: “I feel a little struggle may be no bad thing. For it’s only when times get really tough that you really work out what really matters and maybe, by then, we’ll be ready to believe in it.”

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