This Tuesday, the Edinburgh University Theatre Company presented its new rendering of the Bedlam-born production Eight. Since its debut at the Fringe Festival in 2008, this play has achieved international renown for its harrowing portrayal of a generation lost in a moral chasm.
Ella Hickson arranged this play into eight separate and intense monologues, describing the situations of people from very different walks of life. The evening produced an array of complex characters, for instance a single mother from Edinburgh, struggling to provide her kids with the Christmas that they crave; as well as a scarred and tortured Afghanistan veteran, who now finds solace and companionship in corpses. The diversity of these monologues and the sheer energy with which they were performed made Eight about as entertaining as theatre can get. The audience watched with admiration, and more than a tinge of respect as one actor stripped down to his pants and proceeded to dance madly around the stage.
There are some clearly defined themes running through these otherwise unconnected pieces; the easiest to pinpoint were consumerism, body image, and the commercialisation of sexuality. However, that’s about as far as it goes. Each of the monologues in Eight stands on its own as a well-crafted character piece, as well as a moving and thought provoking social commentary. But an attempt at finding some coherent message or theme that touches all eight of them is fruitless. If there is room for criticism in Ella Hickson’s writing it is this: the audience leaves the theatre with the certain feeling that they’ve gained something from this performance, but understanding what they have gained proves elusive. They may be left lamenting the lack of thematic coherence between the individual portraits they have glimpsed.
These individual portraits were brought to life with a masterful balance of zeal and compassion. The very first monologue seized our attention adeptly with the story of Preston lad Danny (played by Isaac Allen) whose obsession with muscle-building had eerie links with his mother’s job: airbrushing the faces and bodies of celebrities to make them fit for magazine covers. When an IED burns off the skin on his leg in Afghanistan, it reveals the muscles he worked so hard for. Such a direct and piercing dark scene was our introduction to this emotional production, from then on the play went on to put the audience in stitches on several occasions. The comic relief came most notably when in the hands of Esmée Cook as Millie, the niche sex worker who laments the fall of the class system. Her impassioned defence of tradition comes hand-in-hand with her deep, burning sympathy for the Tory grandees (“My boys….” She whimpers) whose peculiar tastes she has spent a career catering to. A “traditional service” is what she offers to raucous abandon.
This play gripped and entertained. The EUTC did a splendid job of bringing the passions and pain of youth to bear on this material. Although the performance suffered from the play’s fundamental lack of coherency as a unified body of work, it was ultimately a brilliant depiction of the moral conflicts of today.
Image: Connor O’Sullivan