Definitions of “phantasmagoria” flash up on an overhead projector at the start of this new play by Tallulah Brown, daughter of Private Eye journalist Craig Brown. I wasn’t quick enough to scribble them down but, according to Dictionary.com, the word refers to either a shifting series of deceptions or a changing scene of many elements or an illusion created by a magic lantern in which figures increase or diminish in size.
I’m not sure the title really makes sense, whichever definition you opt for, but it’s just one of several things that don’t here. Phantasmagoria is billed as a “coming-of-age story that asks what childhood friendship can survive and what it can’t”, but Brown is still coming of age herself as a dramatist and it shows.
She’s attempted to cover a lot of ground, but skated over too many details in the process. Kit is in the hospital (why?), Florrie wants to have a test-tube baby (why?), Malone is a man-eater (why?). None of these three central female characters are fleshed out, nor is the basis for their friendship or its dissolution. The men who flit on the periphery are even hazier, and the coincidences required for their three-way reunion, and its immediate aftermath, are simply unbelievable.
There were some nice performances and design touches, and I’d like to give more production credit where it’s due, but in that regard I’m reviewing slightly blind as attempts to track down a press release, creative team or cast list proved fruitless.
Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll witness the maturation of Brown and many of these University of Manchester artists on the Fringe and elsewhere in the years to come. Good luck to them.