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Review: Gruoch at BFC Theatre

Gruoch

The venue for Gruoch– the Blackpool and Fylde College theatre – is, sadly, an underused and under-promoted space. It’s a nicely sized, purpose built, hundred seater theatre space and it’s a shame that it isn’t on the cultural touring map for Blackpool. Admittedly, the outer corridor needs soundproofing to stop sound bleed through but other than that let us see it used a bit more, because if the quality of student shows are as high as that demonstrated by Gruoch then it deserves to be more central in the Blackpool scene.

Gruoch is a one woman show, written by Melanie-Claire Whitehead, in the manner of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, as in it shows the scenes between the scenes of a Shakespeare play, in this case the dreaded ‘Scottish play’ – Macbeth.

The action, set in Lady Macbeth’s boudoir, is a staccato set of scenes that tell the whole tale of Mac-B through the off set responses to the iconic Shakespeare play, from the withering tirade that Lady Macbeth levels at her lover to her inevitable crushing guilt-driven destruction. I’m not giving any spoilers here, most people will have at least some prior knowledge of Macbeth, but even if you don’t the writing is strong and married to a cracking performance so that you can garner the plot quite easily.

The solo show, which is always a risk for any performer, especially one who is still a student, is a really strong and ambitious offering. The young actor/actress (I never know what the right term to use is these days; the female performers I used to know all preferred actor to shirk gender issues) is the wonderfully northern-named Jenny Atkinson; perfect, a breath of fresh air on stage, energetic, pouty and at ease with her role as the greatest historical WAG in theatre. It’s a play that really shows the universality of the power of female guile in its theatrical sense; a confident, more emotionally imbued mirror of Shakespeare’s admittedly broad stroke harridan Lady Macbeth. Her casual dress and Disney blanket echoed the modern tone for the play while pumping music from Eurythmics bid us to enter the bedroom sanctuary from the blood soaked shenanigans offstage.

Minimal lighting set a subdued atmosphere, which allowed for the emotional contrasts of the performer to lead us through the show. With the exception of a couple of slightly jarring light/sound technical issues it’s nicely done throughout and not one single ‘out damn spot’ was uttered, thank goodness. Atkinson obviously relishes the role and blasted her way through the swift feeling hour of theatre with the poise and élan of a performer mid career as opposed to a third year degree student at the beginning of life on stage. An acting career does indeed beckon for her. As someone who has seen more student theatre in his time than should be reasonably expected, Jenny Atkinson ranks as high as any performer I’ve seen outside of a top national theatre company, and if her performance as a student in Gruoch is anything to measure it by, it won’t be long before we see her in one.

There were too few moments of stillness for me; it is in the stillness one truly finds a performer’s strength. It’s a small niggle but I thought I should mention it, as the one moment of true stillness in the play, just a fragile woman sitting in a chair, left us wanting more of that nuanced subtlety. That said, the healthy number of people in the audience were left thoroughly satisfied.

You can see Gruoch at the Manchester Fringe Festival on Friday 3 and Sunday 5 July. For more information visit the website.

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