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REVIEW: TURBINES at RWCMD by Gareth Ford-Elliott

 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Turbines by Sarah McDonald Hughes follows six students (aged around 15-16) in a unit-classroom as they deal with the stabbing of a schoolmate. This leads to Mia stabbing her teacher in the first scene as the play attempts to explain why this happened, exploring who these young people are.

The play suffers from the use of stereotypical characters who possess little depth and writing that feels lazy. As though students are chucked in a unit and that will justify the stabbing, but it doesn’t. Even within their backstories, their presence in the unit is not justified.

As it is, the play feels it would be more interesting placed in a standard classroom as the play currently comes across as a series of events that are mostly irrelevant or insignificant, particularly given the moral protection of the unit.

The flow is constantly interrupted, and it moves too fast without allowing time to explore the characters. There are a few breaks that offer potential such as Tina’s boyfriend breaking up with her or a flashback to the start of Mia and Grace’s early friendship. But even these scenes show very little emotional intrigue.

There is no overriding story, really, besides the two stabbings. The backstories cover most of the play, but these are stereotypical. Parents who argue, a young pregnancy, an ill mother, and so on. These backstories are not unique, offer little significance and just when you’re expecting something to tie it all together, they look at some turbines, say they feel calm, and nothing happens.

Moving onto the turbines, the title of the play and the key piece of symbolism provided. Trying my hardest to drag something out of this, I would say that the turbines are meant to represent serenity and persistence in a tough environment. A symbol that allows the students to express. The rotation of the blades also possibly referring back to the cyclical nature of knife crime. The symbolism is somewhat tacked in and unclear, with potential it’s just not reaching.

Turbines explores multiple possibilities that can happen when the major event, the stabbing, occurs and explores how that might affect their lives differently. It’s also unclear which of these is the ending or if the writer wants there to be one specific ending. Perhaps not an issue for where this piece was imagined to be but given that it appears to try to question why this stabbing might occur, the lack of a definitive ending is a problem.

I can see where this play goes wrong in the writing process, as it has a singular focus at its core and fitting that to a cast of seven is hard. It centres around Mia and everyone else is basically irrelevant. And if that is the aim, then why bother with 90% of the rest of the play? There is potential there for a good play about Mia. But it needs expanding, focusing and lots of cutting.

I just struggle to see how a play produced in collaboration with Paines Plough could be quite this underdeveloped. My guess is that the writer wasn’t afforded the time or support necessary for this piece to succeed. I don’t think you can pin the play’s failures solely on such a talented and promising writer.

Emily Ling Williams direction just falls a little flat. There are attempts at characterisation through the acting, some of which work, some don’t. The tone and pace are not handled particularly well, however this is quite hard as the story beats are all over the place. It’s a tough play to direct, but Williams stumbles to raise the bar for the production.

Rocky Hood’s lighting works well, very understated, but is one of few positives from this production. The sound design from Jack Lancelot Stewart is fine. It’s nothing exceptional and sometimes intruding, but decent overall.

Clare Johnson’s set is a little clunky and often gets in the way, although does a good job of establishing location. The fans, representing wind turbines, just look tacky and don’t work.

The performances from the cast of seven are all decent. But really, most of the actors don’t have much to play with. There are clearly attempts at characterisation made by the actors with the director. Amesh Edireweera’s mannerisms as Liam, Finnian Garbutt’s boyish immaturity as Reece and Nina Bloomgarden’s grace as Grace all stand out as expansions on the script.

Unfortunately, the school teacher, portrayed by Lilly Tukur, Jack (Harry Heap) and Tina (Julie Lamberton) are all pretty much unsavable. The performances are good for the most part, given what they had, but they really deserve better.

Abbie Hern stands out as Mia. Her character has the most substance and is the most explored. Hern rises to this and delivers a great performance which is one of few shining lights in this production.

Turbines examines young people and their actions in what is an underwhelming production that can’t be saved by its strong cast.

Turbines performed at The Bute Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
19 – 21 March 2019 in Cardiff
Transferring to The Gate Theatre, London, 2 – 5 April
Written by Sarah McDonald Hughes
Directed by Emily Ling Williams
In Collaboration with Paines Plough
As part of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ Season
Abbie Hern as Mia
Nina Bloomgarden as Grace
Finnian Garbutt as Reece
Amesh Edireweera as Liam
Julie Lamberton as Tina
Harry Heap as Jack
Lilly Tukur as School Teacher
Production Team:
Set & Costume Design: Clare Johnson
Lighting Design: Rocky Hood
Sound Designer: Jack Lancelot Stewart
Assistant Production Manager: Alexandra Drescher-Elphick
Stage Manager: Jessica Forella
Deputy Stage Manager: Cara-Megan Rees

Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Hales
Design Assistant: Rachel Merritt
Technicians: Ella Cunnison, Kitty Dunning, Jamie Holden  and Paul Kaiba
Venue Technician: Evie Oliver
Supervisors: Kristy Bowers, Rob Clarke and Laura Martin


 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and discusses the production’s plot in detail.

Eternity and Time
by Jacob Hodgkinson follows a 14-year-old girl, Maya, who is sent
as a drug-runner from Liverpool to Bangor by Dabs. As the play develops, it
becomes increasingly evident that she wasn’t meant for a life in the city, but
instead something freer. Between Eternity
and Time
is about environment, coming of age and finding your place in the

The writing by Jacob Hodgkinson is generally OK. The plot is straight-forward and the dialogue is realistic. There’s rarely a boring moment as the play moves at a good pace, mostly with purpose and with a good amount of humour.

However, characters are very stereotypical, underdeveloped
and in one case, Kitty, completely unnecessary. Other characters have no
redeeming qualities, especially Dabs, the main drug-dealer, who just seems to
be bad with no justification, even to himself. Maya similarly, has no negative
quality. She doesn’t seem vulnerable, as a fourteen-year-old in the drug-scene
would be, despite being taken advantage of, and never does anything wrong. This
makes her feel passive and hard to connect to through no-fault of Kate Jones
who performs well.

There are also a few moments of expositional speech that
really drag, ruining the rhythm of the piece. In particular when Maya explains
her half-brother, Tom’s, personal history and interest in Warhammer to Mush.
This goes on far too long and is too expositional to be interesting. It’s also irrelevant
to the rest of the play. It could be cut and we wouldn’t miss a thing. We
understand exactly who Tom was through William Kirk’s great performance.

A minor issue is that it’s not realistic for a drug-runner to
be forced to put drugs up their bottom to transport on a train from Liverpool
to Bangor. That’s something only really used to smuggle across international borders
through airports. Not really from Liverpool to Bangor. Not impossible that it’d
happen, but it doesn’t help with the suspension of disbelief and seems to exist
solely to make Dabs look evil when he forces Maya to do this.

The play is gritty realism that leans into surrealism at
times as actors don stag masks and speak about Maya’s backstory through metaphor
that compares Maya’s animalistic nature to that of a young fawn. For most of
the play this feels odd, until the end where it finally pays off. The
juxtaposition of the surreal, animalistic and rural nature to the societal,
urban, reality fits what the play attempts to talk about. But perhaps would be
stronger were it explored more in the direction before the end of the play.

Otherwise, the direction from Hannah Noone is strong. From
script to stage, the play improves and Noone certainly contributes to the play’s
strengths whilst balancing out its weaknesses. The scenes are short-and-snappy
for the most part, but are directed well, with close attention paid to pace and
tone, so this isn’t an issue.

Some of the music choices are bordering on offensive. It’s
clear that some working-class, Liverpudlian, drug-dealers listen to rap music.
But we don’t need that shoved in our faces, especially as it’s not personal to
the characters. It feels a little like Noone and sound designer, Charlie Foran,
have thought, “what music is ‘street’ and reflects drug-dealing?” And then
instantly picked the most instantly recognisably ‘black’ music genre, hip-hop,
which is bordering on racist stereotyping. It just doesn’t sit well. It also
does nothing to increase that feeling of ‘Liverpool’, so some local music would
be a better fit.

The music generally feels like a missed opportunity to draw a
real distinction between Liverpool and Bangor and between the urban and the
rural. This is explored at times, but really not enough, which is a shame given
the overriding theme of the play.

The set from Harrison Lee is minimal which works well,
allowing the writing and acting to be the main focus which is the point of RWCMD’s
‘NEW’ season. This, however, means that the lighting is very important. Luckily,
Leonora Nicholson’s lighting design is exceptional and compliments the production
well, enhancing almost every scene.

Despite the stereotypical and often weak characters, all performances are brilliant – for what they were given.

Ed Piercy makes Blowback feel like a victim of circumstance,
which makes him feel like a young-man from Liverpool, caught up in the drug-scene
with no way out. His performance is realistic and makes his character very

Grace Quigley gives a strong performance as Nicole, acting
with conviction. Saran Morgan as Kitty was great, even if her character was
basically unnecessary. I felt sorry for her, playing a character who doesn’t
really have any substance or meaning – but she does a good job regardless. Alex
Leak as Dabs is also strong, although his accent seemed to switch at times. William
Kirk’s nervous demeaner is really powerful in a play full of confident
individuals. Ruby Hartley as Crystal is also great, as is Kate Jones as Maya –
both however felt incomplete as characters and that meant the performances are
somewhat over-done.

Aron Cynan’s subtlety and creepy vibe as Mush is the standout.
He’ll have your skin crawling even before he does anything wrong. Something is
just ‘off’ with him from the start and it’s really powerful when he eventually

Unrelated to the quality of the production, but no less important, is the lack of trigger warnings provided by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. In the programme and website there are no trigger warnings for sexual violence or flashing lights in this production. So, you can imagine my shock when Mush and Maya are involved in a scene of strong sexual content, this urgently needs addressing. The theatre has a responsibility to challenge its audience’s minds, but care for their bodies. This production succeeds at challenging its audience, but due to the lack of trigger warnings, puts its audience at risk.

Eternity and Time
is an intriguing exploration of environment and
finding one’s place in the world that achieves its aims, but not without its

Between Eternity and Time performed at The Richard Burton Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
19 – 21 March 2019 in Cardiff
Transferring to The Gate Theatre, London, 2 – 5 April
Written by Jacob Hodgkinson
Directed by Hannah Noone
In Collaboration with Sherman Theatre
As part of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ Season
Kate Jones as Maya
William Kirk as Tom
Aron Cynan as Mush
Alex Leak as Dabs
Grace Quigley as Nicole
Ruby Hartley as Crystal
Ed Piercy as Blowback
Saran Morgan as Kitty
Production Team:
Set & Costume Design: Harrison Lee
Lighting Designer: Leonora Nicholson
Sound Designer: Charlie Foran
Assistant Production Manager: Alexandra Drescher-Elphick
Stage Manager: Gemma Smith
Deputy Stage Manager: Melanie Allen
Assistant Stage Manager: Grace Bilsborough
Design Assistants: Cleo Andriola and Bence Baksa
Technicians: Ella Cunnison, Kitty Dunning, Jamie Holden and Paul Kaiba
Venue Technician: Kieran Gough
Supervisors: Kristy Bowers, Rob Clarke and Laura Martin