BWW Review: CLOSE QUARTERS, Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Close Quarters, a new play by Kate Bowen, looks at the experiences of three female soldiers, part of the first generation recruited to the infantry (along with the lone male in their group).
Directed by Kate Wasserberg, it explores the challenges faced by this pioneering group of women as they battle expectations and prejudices alongside enemy forces.
The intimate theatre, its set comprised of canisters, scaffolding, oil drums and debris serves at different points as base camp and rubble-strewn enemy territory. Inventive use of lighting, sound, scent and texture take the audience into the close quarters as the soldiers face threats both internal and external.
The cast each have a strong sense of character and display impressive physicality - the production makes great use of choreography for both fight scenes and displays of athleticism. Occasionally some lines were delivered too quickly (especially given the characters have a range of strong accents, including Glaswegian, London and Welsh) meaning they were lost, but this improved after the first few scenes and is perhaps a consequence of first-night nerves.
Chloe-Ann Tylor gets perhaps the most opportunity to show real range as Cormack, but all six actors are strong. A special mention must go to Adiza Shardow - who joined the cast as a replacement for another actor two days before the show began - in the lead role of Findlay. Although she still used a script for some scenes, it was not obtrusive at all and her grasp of character was fantastic - it's a brilliant performance and I am sure she will only improve as the run continues.
Whilst the characters are strongly drawn, I did have a little quibble. The play keeps emphasising that the soldiers are 20 years old, but they didn't really look, sound or act like 20-year-olds - even with the caveat that they have had to grow up quickly because of their training. Were they played by slightly younger actors, or written as characters a few years older it would perhaps feel more believable (although I work with 20-year olds on a daily basis so this may not be as noticeable for others!).
Overall, the script is strong, with a sense of the different dialects for each character, and a nice balance between comedy and drama; action and reflection. The plot is mostly well-paced although the final monologue feels a little twee compared to the vibrancy of what has come before.
The direction and choreography keep the play tight and engrossing. The set is used well with action happening at multiple heights and clever integration of props and scenery, along with a few unexpected surprises.
It's an engaging watch, and though some of the themes may feel familiar, there's plenty of innovation in the setting, dialogue and production that makes this well-worth seeing.
Close Quarters is at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield, until 10 November.
Photo by Sam Taylor.