Gazing At A Distant Star
17 January 2017
Greenwich Theatre presents the world premiere of Sian Rowland’s Gazing at a Distant Star in their newly constructed studio space. It is a thoughtful three-hander musing on the repercussions felt by those who are left behind when an individual goes missing. Rowland’s writing is the dark star in this new play; her wit twinkles and slices in equal measure whilst the three actors sensitively negotiate the deliberately impersonal set. The ambitious script successfully intertwines the monologues of three strangers who have all lost a loved one, but there may have been scope for a tighter, more dynamic evening of theatre, potentially with a more sharpened gaze.
James Haddrell presents us with a stark and anonymous preset; white tables and chairs littered with equally clinical detritus. Sitting in this limbo from the time we walk in is Harpal Hayer, crowned with the infamous call centre headset. Harpal plays instantly likeable swot Arun as he diligently clocks up hours badgering the elderly, desperate to make enough cash to get to university. It’s a nuanced and endearing performance, and you can see how this easily-led, slightly awkward lump falls under the spell of his charismatic supervisor, Glenn. Whilst Arun’s ambition unravels in pursuit of worldly pleasures influenced by his new pal, Glenn disappears leaving the young man more rudderless than ever before. No longer striding confidently along his path to accountancy and call-centre freedom, Arun has no one to normalise his self-destructive behaviour and must confront his recent decisions and the man he is becoming.
Victoria Porter plays a frantic and fidgety single mother whose son has gone to wage “ginger jihad” under the guise of taking a lads’ holiday to Bulgaria. For me, this seemed the most clunky and ill-conceived of the stories and started at such an emotional pitch there was literally nowhere to go or build to during the hour and a half running time.
Serin Ibrahim gave a well-pitched performance as Jane, the distressed younger sibling, watching her older sister crumple in an abusive and possessive relationship. I particularly liked the way she looked directly at the audience, seeming to confide in us personally, and she never played the overt tragedy of her situation. Ibrahim was an ideal vessel for Rowland’s writing, delivering moments of levity and pathos with expert timing and injecting energy and life into the piece. She poignantly communicated that, despite their physical proximity, her sister went missing long before she literally disappeared.
Rowland’s writing feels fresh and perceptive; she spins humour out of the bleakest of subject-matter but this play confronts so many themes that it doesn’t probe anyone comprehensively. In my opinion, it would benefit from a lengthy regional tour to settle into its own skin and give Rowland the opportunity to refine exactly what she’s trying to say. In a world where all our whims and activities are trackable on social media, the need to disappear has never been stronger. Missing people is an increasingly topical issue, and this piece does well to highlight that.