LUDS Presents: Underground
I knew very little of the play Underground by Michael Sloan and so I had no idea what to expect of the thriller/murder mystery. In all honesty, I don’t think anything could have prepared me or any of my fellow audience members for the abundance of twists and turns within the plot, the double guessing, or the unexpected ending. The play concentrates on eleven commuters, stuck on a stand-still underground train and forced to acquaint with, and become suspicious of, one and other following the murder of the train conductor, Jane (played by Leda Katsanouli).
The play boasted a fantastic cast, all unique yet naturally fitting together. Each performance was strong and clearly developed, promising interesting dynamics and relationships between the characters. Michael Cook’s portrayal of Jim McClain was effortless and controlled; his calm manner and subtlety contrasted perfectly with the louder characters, such as the critical sceptic Sue Preston (Niamh Mclaughlin), the flirtatious and provocative Elizabeth Snowden (Shauna McCarthy) and George Burrows’ cocky and charismatic Fellows. Annie Wade Smith played Felicity Allender as wonderfully frail and gentle, using a soft Welsh accent that I must admit was so convincing it made me slightly homesick! Thomas McIntyre’s tramp was a heart-breaking portrayal, isolating himself clearly from the rest of the characters and perfectly provoking their awkward and unsure reactions. John Brooks (Jack Gilfoyle), Anthony Porter (Hayden Raynor) and Michael Thomas (Emily Greener) were perfect examples of typical underground commuters, played exceptionally well and essential to conveying the realism and comprehensibility of the play as well as setting up its uncomfortable atmosphere. Sam Baxter’s Alexander Howard was highly commendable; his quieter and unsuspecting nature made his character’s backstory even more chilling and unexpected.
A performance that is impossible not to highly praise, however, is that of Alexander Moore’s. Initially we pinned his character, Craig, as the dry-humoured, eccentric and introverted figure portrayed through static composure and wonderfully subtle comedic timing – perhaps the comic relief to the otherwise intense atmosphere. The end of part two, however, demonstrated how mature Moore’s understanding of complex character development and portrayal is as his performance naturally developed into a psychopathic, unnerving, and disturbing display. The character that we laughed at and perhaps found the most endearing in part one very suddenly, yet somehow effortlessly, became the character we feared. It left me in a state of confusion; I loved his performance, but was so convinced by it that I was afraid of approaching him after to tell him as much. (I did and to my relief he is, in fact, lovely.)
Solenna Le Goff, assisted by Liam Doyle, showed much promise as a director, bravely stepping outside the tradition of setting the thriller on an end on stage and experimenting instead with a traverse stage, allowing two sides of audience to sit on opposite sides of the stage to each other. Although this staging meant that the projection of the actors’ dialogue was slightly impaired at times meaning some speech was lost, it undoubtedly created a sense of claustrophobia amongst the actors and the audience, appropriately complementing the potent events of the play. The set consisted of four blocks of train seats placed carefully for the eyesight of the audience (although this would have perhaps been further enhanced by a levelled stage) and two doors either side of the stage, which collectively shaped the illusion of an intense, enclosed and doomed underground train. The impressive attention to small details also forced the audience to indulge further in the theatrical experience, with the tickets being replicas of actual train tickets and the train conductor Jane stamping the tickets as the audience entered the theatre, whilst a performer sang with an acoustic guitar live, perhaps mimicking the busking element of the underground experience. Climactic moments of the play were enhanced considerably with the use of lighting and sound. During the murderous scenes, the sound effect of the underground train starting and breaking in conjunction with sudden blackouts created an air of helplessness and kept the audience on the edge of their seats in complete suspense waiting to see what would be exposed once the lights faded up again.
Without a doubt, Underground was an incredibly impressive production, showcasing the brilliant ability and potential of Liverpool University’s Drama Society’s growing talent and range.
*Feature image courtesy of Steph Cragg, Publicity and Marketing for LUDS*