Swivelhead’s set has been described as one of the biggest at the Fringe this year. But what is more important: an elaborate technical design to impress an audience, or having something to say and really saying it?
“Beep” Atkinson (Ben Dyson) used to fly typhoons, now he is a drone pilot, soon he will become… an owl. Growing up he wanted to marry his sister Hattie (Juliet Welch) because they were so close. But on the eve of her wedding day he is distressed, because he has instead ended up married to his job, and can feel himself losing her, and losing control.
It’s a positive start for Pipeline Theatre Company as we are introduced to three well developed characters, and it’s nice to see two older actors in the roles. Welch is admirable as the compassionate sister, who we unfortunately don’t see enough of. Paddy Atkinson, old-school military man, who was private school educated, has a new rookie to torment. Callum (Lewis Howard) puts up with his with jokes about dogging, wanking and generally talking a lot about his genitals. This allows for plenty of one-liners for both male parts, but just like Callum, we quickly get sick of the repetitiveness.
Most shows at the Fringe don’t have lavish set or props; here it seems a distraction from a plot that touches on an old subject, but doesn’t explore it enough to really have anything to say. It needs to be more current, more real, more emotional, make us feel sorry for the civilians they might mistake for targets. Make us feel more sorry for either side of the battle.
One half of the story is about the intimate relationship between siblings, the other about personal consequences of new age warfare. The upstairs of the set is he and his sister’s childhood tree house, the downstairs is the inside of a container. But the two separate locations, and two different stories don’t manage to fluidly merge into one.
The set is, undeniably, impressive. Two television screens narrate you through time and place, showing flashbacks of his younger years. A projector, a small drone, a flying owl: it becomes a little claustrophobic, giving no space for a story to develop or the characters to breathe.
Terrorism, love, family, and warfare: there is a lot of interesting subject matter in Jon Welch’s writing. But when an RAF drone pilot thinks he is turning into an owl, it’s a little bit too bizarre.