fringe: dead end

dead end
Dead End is, at time, a very difficult show to watch.

At times it felt all too real, so it actually became hard to respond to it as a performance.

The show really starts before it starts... everyone you see is playing a part and none of them really break character at any point, even after the show is "over".

And it really felt like we'd wandered down a back alley (which we literally had, since it takes place right at the end of Porters Lane just off Pultney Street) and been whisked into this slightly nightmarish, fairly creepy reality.

A hulking brute takes your tickets... drinks and popcorn are available from a young man who has an air of sideshow alley about him... the young ringmaster in his somewhat ill-fitting suit simpers and smiles and greets the audience, promenading one of his equally young performers on his arm.

But even before you enter the dead end alley to take one of the collection of mismatched and orphaned chairs you can see that there are cracks in this already unhinged and slightly dangerous world.

And as the show progresses those cracks get wider and wider as the ringmaster shows his true colours and the four female performers rebel, acquiesce, and suffer through his abuse.

That's actually what made it really, really hard to watch.

If the performers had been equally male and female it might not have been so bad... but to watch what is essentially the circus equivalent of domestic violence made the ringmaster from a simpering buffoon into a loathsome character and I think caused a number of people in the audience to feel uncomfortable.

I know that there was one point where an older lady in the audience boo'ed the ringmaster after he'd done something particularly horrible, and I did join in, although we were the only two.

It felt wrong to just sit there as an observer... not interceding when young women are clearly being abused.

And without spoiling the end... I did feel conflicted about clapping at the end... while we'd seen a lot of good circus performance, it felt like we were somehow showing approval for the abuse and the finale of the show.

It also ends up being more about that darker story than it does about the circus performances. There are times when your eye is more drawn to the argument going on behind the performer than the performer themselves, which is a little bit counterproductive at times.

It was also a shame because while a lot of the circus tricks feel fairly basic (I'm not saying they're not difficult, but something about them makes them feel easier than they actually are) a number of them are performed incredibly well.

I'm not completely sure whether the storyline was used to cover up for somewhat fumbled tricks or if the tricks are fumbled on purpose, which would be the more difficult of the two.

Stepping outside the world of the story, there was some trouble with the sound system (which I think pretty much consists of a CD, an iPod and a speaker) where the music was distorting.

And some of the story of the relationships between the four female characters got a bit lost/confused at times... like why was the blonde in the red dress so angry at the juggling girl?

An interesting look into relationships both inside and outside of the world of circus, although one that could probably do with some work-shopping and refining by the young cast, because it has the potential to be something really powerful if they can just boil down what they want to say and what the best way to say it is.

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