Thursday, 31 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Exam - The King's Arms, Salford

Eight unnamed candidates have 80 minutes to answer a question so they can secure a job with a prestigious and mysterious corporation. But before they can do that, they must ask, ‘what is the question’? And how do they find it without breaking the strict rules set by the invigilator (played by Steve Connolly).

Best described as a modern thriller with elements of Pinter's 'The Dumb Waiter'. 'The Apprentice' meets 'Reservoir Dogs' in this 90 minute one act play, (although time seemed to fly whilst watching, even in spite of the giant clock counting down from upstage) in which all of the candidates must work together in an "escape room" style setting. But can you really trust strangers, especially when they want the same thing as you? Upon entering the space, I was informed to be aware of tucking my legs in as the play would ‘get very violent very quickly'. I was not disappointed following that statement.

This Vertigo Theatre Production gave the performers nowhere to hide, set in only one, small room. Coupled with a great script from Stuart Hazeldine and superb direction from Craig Hepworth, the performers acted as a kind of ensemble in which every single actor gave a memorable and believable performance. Hepworth must be commended, as it is no easy feat to direct the ensuing chaos so seamlessly. The characters of all eight candidates were well thought out and explored deeply. John Mackie, playing Candidate 2 and Haydn Holden, playing Candidate 7, gave really brave and harrowing performances. Their confident and cocky attitudes really gave the production momentum and depth. However, all performances were so captivating that it only seems fair to mention the other actors; Gavin Stamper, Nicola Fisher, Rebecca-Claire Evans, Celine Constantinides, Andrew Marsden, Connor McKinney, above mentioned Steve Connolly, and a cameo from the director himself, Craig Hepworth. It is rare to see a production in which there such is a high calibre for every performer.

This production would have been a success with only the above-mentioned team. However, this play was also visually a masterpiece. The white walls encasing the performers, along with the bright white tube lights, gave the impression of a sort of clinical prison. The regimented and precise set-up of the tables and chairs as though an exam were to take place created intrigue from the opening. The audience can then see this regimentation quickly fall away as the tables and chairs are flung around, stood on and discarded. Their miniature society crumbles. Karl Burge and Craig Hepworth used lighting and sound successfully to further add to the production.

This is clearly a very special and brave production that I have no doubt will go far. I will certainly be thinking about this piece in the days to come. It is no surprise, then, that Exam will be moving to Off West End in 2020.

Reviewer - Megan Relph
on - 30/10/19

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