Unlimited Theatre’s latest work, Tangle, is well titled. The lives and relationships of its four characters, the themes of scientific research, heroes, loss and disappearance, and illusion and reality, the different settings boldly announced and not always visited, form a cat’s cradle of confusion. In a play that is all about probabilities, the only certainties are that it is consistently entertaining, frequently thought-provoking and always physically and verbally dextrous – the whole thing being carried off with a kind of casual precision.
Written and devised over an 18-month period by collaborators running into double figures, the text is credited primarily to Unlimited’s “core creative team”: Clare Duffy, Liz Margree, Jon Spooner and Chris Thorpe. It’s not short of plot, just the opposite, the various fractured strands of story-line cohering around a Los Angeles pet beautician’s search for her long-disappeared Uncle Carlos and the mysterious goings-on at an underground laboratory on Wimbledon Common where a bereaved scientist seeks consolation in the pursuit of the secret of teleportation. And could the LA detective with the mysterious cockney accent be the long-lost brother of the scientist’s assistant?
Unlimited ventures boldly into areas where pretentiousness awaits the unwary traveller (surrealism, the ethics of science, appearance and reality) and emerges totally unscathed. Instead there’s a sense of intellectual fun, mixed in with farce, philosophy and oddly compassionate observation. The text lurches from poetry to parody – except that the poetry might be parody, too!
This ambiguity of tone relies upon four beautifully balanced performances, maintained with due seriousness at all times. Lucy Ellinson is outstanding as a predatory dumb blonde, eyelid-flutteringly kooky and dangerously fixated on both Uncle Carlos and her people-finding detective, but the entire cast (Chris Thorpe, Gemma Brockis and director Jon Spooner) has a winning ability to project sincerity and undermine it at the same time.
Unlimited clearly believes in active design, the set consisting of school tables and a variety of chairs which the cast assemble into various patterns throughout (and, indeed, before) the play. Alexander Kelly’s design also features two screens which provide a commentary by means of “scientific” formulae, location indicators, etc.
Tangle transmits more than a touch of confusion, but the sense of mischief and complicity is enough to delight even the most bemused audience members (among whose numbers your reviewer is forced to count himself).
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at Sheffield Crucible Studio)