Sunday, 6 April 2014

Theatre review: Almost Near

Artist Louise (Kate Miles) is planning a comeback exhibition, its centrepiece a sculpture of four British soldiers, dead from horrific injuries in Afghanistan. She insists, though, that the war is not the piece's real subject, merely a backdrop. I suspect this is a clue of sorts from playwright Pamela Carter about the thinking behind Almost Near, which features many scenes in Helmand Province, but may really be most concerned with a troubled family somewhere back in suburban England. As she plans to relaunch herself into the art world after a decade raising her son, Louise's relationship with husband Ed (Michael Sheldon) falls apart. Their scenes are interspersed with the real-life version of her sculpture: Four soldiers wake up after being bombed in Helmand. As they wonder how they could have survived their terrible injuries, they start to realise that they didn't.

The two stories are linked by one of the dead soldiers, Kev aka Princess (Adam Philps.) Prior to joining the army he was a model who posed for Louise's sculpture, before embarking on a brief affair with her.


There's a great quartet of performances from Philps, Tom McCall as Nicey, Oliver Mott as Chips and Amy Loughton as their leader, Jackson. The ghostly soldiers have grisly injuries - Kev has a gaping head wound, Nicey's guts are spilling out, Jackson has an arm missing and Chips bled to death - which they initially use to play ghoulish tricks on each other. As the reality that their lives are over starts to sink in though, so does a calm that their pain and stresses are over with them.


It's a contrast to the scenes back in England, where Laura and Ed try to adjust to their post-breakup lives and worry about the mental wellbeing of their son Jeff (Andrew Gilbert.) Their own concerns though have stopped them from realising quite how disturbed he actually is, or how Jeff's imaginary friend Buddy is connected to a local junkie (Mariam Haque.)


Perhaps scale is what Almost Near is about, the difference between the actual severity of a situation and how much significance we place on it. But I wouldn't want to try and pin the play's meaning down any more than that: It's interesting, and Audrey Sheffield's production has a lot of strong moments, but the play's meaning is deliberately, sometimes frustratingly obscure.

Almost Near by Pamela Carter is booking in repertory until the 15th of April at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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