BWW Review: SPIRAL, Park Theatre

BWW Review: SPIRAL, Park Theatre

BWW Review: SPIRAL, Park Theatre

In the programme notes for her darkly disturbing new play Spiral, Abigail Hood quotes a plea she discovered at the bottom of a free London newspaper: "Dear Steven, we love you, we miss you. We hope you found what you were looking for."

This apparently bleak acceptance of his disappearance by Steven's parents and the questions it engendered are the inspiration for Spiral. The curious thing is that this same quotation is given as the genesis for 2017's Dangling, Hood's first play. And the similarities in the two plays don't end there.

Both plays feature: a missing teenage girl, a father trying to navigate the spiralling complexity of grief and bewilderment brought on by her disappearance, an escort who bears an uncanny resemblance to the lost girl, and the escort's sexually abusive and mercurial Svengali of a pimp/boyfriend.

Both plays are also tagged with exactly the same question: what happens when you can't trust the people you love? Is Spiral therefore a reworking of Dangling or a brand new work exploring contrasting facets of the same themes? There are differences that separate the two plays, but the similarities are such that it would be remiss of this reviewer to allow them to go unremarked.

Perhaps this blurring of lines is instrumental in making Spiral the uneven and flawed product that it is. Beginning with a scene where father Tom, a teacher (Adam Morris), meets with Leah (acted to sparkling effect by Hood herself), the escort, who is dressed up as a schoolgirl.

On first appearances, this is the playing out of some sort of twisted sexual fantasy, but it soon becomes clear that this is actually one of Tom's coping mechanisms - he is paying Leah to pretend that his missing daughter Sophie is still there.

Right from the start, it's evident that the action doesn't gel into full flow, a result of Glen Walford and Kevin Tomlinson's stilted direction (and Hood's under-explored themes) that sees the scene changes come thick, fast and awkward, before the undertow of subtext has been given a chance to be fully and necessarily interrogated.

It means that several scenes play at a somewhat histrionic pitch, veering from a disintegrating marriage to brutal physical/psychological abuse to an unexpected pregnancy, prompting scattered, unwarranted giggles in the audience at distinctly uncomfortable moments whose intention was meant to read as distressing rather than comic.

This unfortunate effect is further emphasised by the constant movement of the cast across the stage to reconfigure the wooden benches that make up Naomi Everall's set design. It doesn't help either that the snatches of upbeat, electronic music that accompany these seem incidental to the action, playing as distracting and jarring.

In addition, the telegraphed denouement addressing accusations of sexual inappropriateness levelled at Tom is anti-climatic and seems a mere plot device to facilitate Tom's separation from his wife Gill (Tracey Wilkinson). One wonders if this aspect of the plot was even necessary; at two hours, excluding the interval, Spiral is a crowded narrative that has enough going on without this non-sequitur.

Ultimately, this is very much a play about how people can come to terms with trauma, and there are many strong moments that serve to showcase Hood's considerable talents as a writer to this end.

However, I was left with the feeling that Spiral would have hugely benefitted from fewer, longer and more deeply exploratory scenes that were less repetitive, and direction that was more sure-footed and less frenetic.

Spiral at Park Theatre until 1 September

Photo credit: Benkin

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From This Author Dzifa Benson

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