Black Sunday deals with characters from different social backgrounds and tries to show how everyone is affected by the financial crisis. As much as it pains me to be so harsh to people who are only just starting out making theatre, there is no way around stating it plainly: Aequita’s first self-devised play is a mess with barely any redeeming qualities.
A new theatre company’s first self-devised play is always a gamble. A group of people with different creative backgrounds come together, and with them a plethora of ideas is brought to the table. Many big issues are juggled in Black Sunday: inequal distribution of wealth, insider-dealing and the struggle to fulfil yourself and at the same time make ends meet - certainly all of these are worth exploring on a theatre stage.
I personally frown on anyone who uses "do-gooder" as an insult, and I never would have thought I’d say this but yes, there can be such a thing as too much idealism, especially when it comes to creating an entertaining piece of theatre. But how can something born out of so much goodwill be so unappealing on stage? The answer is short: Most of the acting is wooden, there is no visual appeal and the lines are creaky.
For example and granted, maybe I just wasn’t drawn into the story enough, but it took me a while to realise that Samuel Humphreys’ fraudulent banker and the slacker son of a businessman were not in fact one and the same character. But this wasn’t the only example of acting and writing not nuanced and clear enough. Kate Tucker’s presence on the stage is close to unbearable. While maybe good at improvising, all of her characters are loud and obnoxious and her responses to fellow players are as sophisticated as a brick wall or a steam-engine.
Miranda Magee is a fresh breeze in all of this. Whenever her silky politician takes centre stage to rattle off a stream of conservative rhetoric, it’s like we’re seeing a different play. "Debt is like a disease", she proclaims, exuding confidence and even managing to make the fact-bending logic of the political right believable for a moment. Sadly, this character doesn’t remain an ironic comment set against the supposedly real-life scenes. To show that the financial break-down hits the big bankers and politicians in the same way as artists or single mums, she is put on stage with her family and it is not so cleverly revealed how all of the characters interlink with each other. So around halfway-through, stuck in a scene that's dull and painful to watch, even she gives up and succumbs to mediocrity.
It’s not that all of this is not relevant in its own right, but the execution is simply not worth watching. The characters' stakes are so high, with career-destroying and life-altering consequences, and yet the actors just plough unmotivatedly through one punchless scene after another.
There is one example that encapsulates the well-meaning but awkward failure of this piece perfectly. A real threat for everyone in this financial climate is that, if you lose your job and you are being abandoned by friends and family, you might end up on the street. As a constant reminder of this potential threat, a shop window mannequin dressed in a sleeping bag is on display on stage throughout, and sometimes hardly distinguishable voice-overs of real homeless people are used in conversations with actors on stage. It's this ham-handed fakeness in the name of sincerity that make this production hard to watch.
It also doesn’t help that director Rachael Bellis does not believe in the images she creates on stage. In themselves visually unappealing, the piece seems to be a chain of never ending unconnected scene changes, with stage hands moving furniture and props about every other minute. I have seen good theatre created with little to no means, so the failure of this cannot be blamed on it being a no-budget production. Admittedly, it’s not completely without wit, it’s just that the funny bits are immediately rendered irrelevant by the dullness and ineptitude of the rest.
While I believe that Aequitas really do care about poverty in society I’d rather watch a Houses of Parliamant debate on the financial crisis on the telly because those people at least have learned "how to act like they care about the poor people."