Mermaids: the University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund task themselves with “peeling back the paper on a glossy, film poster world” in The Hollywood Effect. The show is essentially three monologues separated by scenes set in a train station. The characters, who share a love of movies, tell their personal stories as well as how they have been informed or contested by the ideals projected by the movie industry. These stories cover everything from love to security to who you look up to as a hero. Rowan Wishart’s play wants to prove a point; that life is not some glossy Hollywood tale of perfect dreams coming true and that real life is full of disappointment and imperfection.
Don’t take that to mean this is an especially heavy play though. A mixture of charismatic characters and stories that don’t go as deep into the subject matter as they could mean that the monologues are very watchable. It is also crystal clear about what they are saying. It’s to The Hollywood Effect’s benefit that everything it does is not overly complicated. It is very easy to tell how movies have influenced their lives and how they subsequently suggest that a perfect future can be realised. It is a very accessible piece of commentary on our society and the film industry that does not weigh itself down with jargon or an overly abstract style.
The three monologues are all performed superbly, demanding different things from actors Hannah Gilchrist, Alice Robson and Henry Roberts. Whether it is naïvety, fear or disappointment, the emotions of the characters are all expressed clearly and it is easy to empathise with them as reality is laid bare before them. While all touching on a very widespread issue, these stories are deeply personal in their nature and expertly display how the big bad world of motion pictures can have such a pervasive effect on our most intimate feelings. The show is occasionally humorous, with enough laughs to prevent you leaving the theatre downtrodden.
The effect of Hollywood on our lives seems increasingly well documented, and is so vast and complex a topic, fitting it into a single hour is as unlikely as a foreseeable end to the Ice Age franchise. Some may feel that many issues are untouched by the play that deserves a mention, particularly with regards to representation. While this is something that is always there, the bull is not grabbed by the horns as fully as many expect it might be. Any major comment on the likes of race and gender in film is absent, which is a shame when these two topics gather so much attention in the 21st Century and their projections on the big screen are scrutinised like never before.
The Hollywood Effect does a commendable job in highlighting the trap that movies can keep you in. You feel trapped into living your life a certain way and into expecting everything to happen in a particular way. This mini-investigation certainly peels back the paper even if it doesn’t fully read between the lines. A lot more could have been made of a topic rich for unpicking, but Mermaids deliver a thought-provoking and accessible piece of new writing that deserves the attention of a vast audience.
The Hollywood Effect
theSpace on North Bridge – Perth Theatre
Until 25 August (not 19
Buy tickets here
Image: Mermaids University of St Andrews Performance Fund