Monday 3 March 2014

Fringe review: 'Maybe You Could Crack My Sternum'

Tandanya - Firefly, 27 February-6 March 2014. Written and performed by Emma Hall and Emma Smith.

Photo: Beth Jennings

In the human body, the sternum is a flat, T-shaped bone which sits in the centre of the chest. Its function is to protect the heart and other organs from external trauma. You won’t find this out in Maybe You Could Crack My Sternum, but you may elicit something about the metaphysical emptiness which its performers Emma (Hall) and Emma (Smith) describe as being like that mysterious indentation just below the ribcage.

MYCCMS (as it will be convenient to call it) is a brief but ebullient exploration of female anxiety as experienced by 20- and 30-somethings. In the opening minutes we are introduced to some of the (presumably real life) characteristics that distinguish the two Emmas – their favourite drinks and pastimes and so on – but they are virtually interchangeable. Dressed in matching white t-shirts and underwear only, they are more ciphers than genuine characters although differences do emerge; the wide-eyed, almost six feet Emma Hall gives a restrained and quietly mischievous performance, whereas her much shorter namesake is angry and elastic, at times worryingly unstable.

In rapid, often surreal scenes, the Emmas navigate the fraught transition from adolescence to young womanhood. Internet dating, eating disorders and depression are all touched on but the script is fast moving and densely imagistic; in short, hard to pin down. The all-white set, designed by Taryn Dudley and perceptively lit by Jackson Trickett, is similarly opaque, though its geoboard-inspired webs hint at the complexities and confusions of the Emmas’ attempts to connect with men, the world, and each other.         

If MYCCMS has one abiding problem, it is that its performers can’t seem to register when their eccentricities stop being charming and start to look a lot like self-indulgence. The show is entirely self-devised, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the involvement of a director or outside eye might have usefully diluted some of this excess and, perhaps, steered the script in one or two riskier directions. MYCCMS is weakened (though, happily, not fatally) by its unending cutesiness. The show isn’t long enough for this oneness of tone to really grate, but it is odd that in a play that is, in part, about human connectivity, Hall and Smith do so little to connect with us. Their intimacy, though potent and clearly deeply felt, eventually has a distancing effect. The audience feels shut out.

I understand that the company regards MYCCMS as a work in progress. It certainly feels like one, although there is plenty to go on. The writing, often evocative and understatedly funny, is already strong, and both Emmas are fine performers whose onstage chemistry, if given the necessary checks and balances, will undoubtedly prove an asset to future productions.    

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