From the work I’ve previously seen from up-and-coming writers Ella Greenhill and Joe Ward Munrow, each is attracted to unconventional staging and exploring human stories in different ways.
Munrow’s Held, a tale of two brothers dealing with their mother’s dementia, was performed along a runway-style strip with the audience facing each other on either side (I was a bit distracted by being sat right opposite Alistair McGowan that night). Both writers contributed to 100 Seel Street, a promenade piece performed in the titular address, that moved around the house for the audience to uncover its stories.
So Mind the Gap, produced by their company Pimento Theatre and also directed by Munrow, unsurprisingly shows similar inventive theatrical traits. Set on the London Underground, the audience ‘boards’ a tube train – two rows of seats facing each other, as in a real carriage – and waits to see who will speak; actors as anonymous as the punters.
It’s strange how convincing this staging actually is – Samuel Kent’s set design leaves one feeling as hemmed in as on a real train, while Phil Saunders’s lighting and sound replicates the familiar rituals of travelling on the underground, so much so you can almost feel the rumbling and movement on the track.
Then onto the drama, as the train comes to a mysterious halt. Scouser Nina (Rachel Worsley) pipes up first, unaware of the truth in the cliche that Londoners don’t speak to each other on the tube. Eastern European Piotr (Rik Grayson) reluctantly takes the bait, if only to ridicule British small talk – his mind is elsewhere. Born and bred Londoner Darren (Errol Smith) is mouthy and anxious. But does fastidious student Faisul (Harki Bhambra) hold the key to what is really going on?
As the heat rises and the tension builds, it’s interesting how the passengers are prepared to squabble instead of look out for each other. Each character has a ‘time out’ from the main action, a monologue to explain to the audience what happened in advance so fate had it they ended up on this particular train at this particular moment. Being among this action as an audience member is intense – as is wondering how the piece will end, and how we will get out of the theatre. It’s not really interactive, but it’s hard not to feel part of a group experience with these characters.
Mind the Gap is a skilfully-crafted look at how we judge on first impressions and the defences everyone puts up just to get through the day, whether their issues and fears are real or imagined. An impressive and memorable piece of theatre that is well-written, superbly acted and vividly brought to life.