Written by Claire Wood
Directed by Ross Hope
After the success of their dating show roulette in the previous year, Production Lines builds on the foundations of audience interactions and consequences. Though this time, there’s more than a dodgy date at stake. Any who have spotted their local cinema through the Pandemic will recognise the Court’s claim over the space for virtual juries – Prism takes this and applies it directly into the homes of viewers. A children’s support panel, tasked with securing the future of a young girl from her distant parents.
So, who should have custody of Storm? Does biology and blood trump nurture or is there more afoot than a simple game of Divorce-Bingo?
Differing trajectories, wherever the audience chooses to shine the light of investigation is where the baseline structure will flow in Claire Wood’s Prism. As the virtual audience makes their choices to which of the three fighters for Storm’s rights case, they will hear first: narcissist father George, one step from a breakdown mother Natalya, or the almost too-sincere Tzeporah – Natalya’s PA and borderline surrogate of Storm.
Production Lines alumni Alan Patterson will be a familiar face to many, but Patterson’s capability to run with a character and riff on the fly with audience members is as impressive as ever. Called into act as ‘impartial’ arbiter, Convenor, Alfobalob, Albatross or whatever he decides to go by is an almost malefic presence in the kangaroo court setting. Channelling needed elements of comedy, Patterson has the understated but vital task of corralling the audience to interact and make their choices.
Encouraging – the audience is commended for their involvement, the cast doing their best to offer branching paths while maintaining control over momentum. Ultimately, the narrative follows a set structure, but the genius (and merit) of Wood’s script is the twisted manner in which we arrive. Recounting three events in Storm’s life, the audience can decide between two perspectives, ultimately leaving one unheard. But the stark and clever choices go beyond the fast-paced, as small changes occur from viewpoint to viewpoint, Tzeporah’s accent even changing depending, highlighting insight into how others view her.
Perhaps the most distinct difference, is Caroline Mathison’s Natalya, taking on the widest variation of development across the time shifts and perspectives. From vapid, shallow & vain – to a distressed mother with desperation and heartache. It borders on washing away the others, not through Mathison’s error, as both George & Tzeporah have less to work within the script in terms of dramatic change – though this also lays at the hands of the audience and the order they wish to determine the narrative. It isn’t until the finale, where all the hidden cards are pulled from sleeves that Vanashree Thapliyal gets to push beyond the sympathetic role.
Remarkably, it all leans towards an encouraging production, stumbling somewhat with the expectant pitfalls of Zoom technology. Additional characters, though serving a purpose as Natalya’s additional romances, cloud the already heavy plot threads. Feeling less as integral parts of the tale, and more bloated exposition machines – particularly in whisking in dramatic moments and surprise reveals.
Subverting the expectations of live theatre, Production Lines champions the interactive nature and promise that streaming allows. Those who are still unable or unwilling to engage in in-person events are ultimately able to join in the cultural experiences we all live for. It’s an exceptionally bold and admirable stance and pushes what other production companies fail to grasp. Channelling the profound difficulties involved in child custody and the clean-cut decision which it entails, Wood’s piece has a tight grasp of the message it aims to put across, and a capable cast to react to audience derailments – which could benefit from a snip of padding to solidify the foundations of this family drama.
Prism runs until February 5th. Tickets for which can be obtained here.