Review: E8⭐⭐⭐⭐

THEATRE (New Writing)

E8

PLEASANCE DOME (Venue 23)

August 16th-26th, 16.10

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an eclectic mix of artistic wares – sometimes a hit, sometimes a miss, and sometimes, you are faced with a performance that sits on a pedestal atop Fringe mountain – and my god, does E8 belong up there.

The performance begins the moment you enter the theatre, with Polly, the headteacher of an Pupil Referral Unit, and Bailey, a difficult, but ultimately, misunderstood student, determined to start and finish every fight. Both are busy in a simple classroom set, with audience thrust on three sides. They are soon joined by another student, Ryan, and Mo, a member of staff with what seems like a similar upbringing to both students.

It becomes immediately clear that E8 is set in the East End of London, specifically Central Hackney, with dialogue that pours out like poetry, albeit an almost alien language, with colloquialisms that would put the Scottish dialect to shame. The snappy back and forth of sometimes just single words was almost hypnotic, and it’s very obvious that writer, Marika McKennell has a background in spoken word, both writing and performance.

The drawbacks to this style of writing however, is that it isn’t always quite so fluid, and there are moments that feel awkward and clunky, especially between both staff members, Mo and Polly. Whether the writing is a little lacking, or the performance is missing authenticity, I’m not entirely sure. There were flashes of brilliance, intertwined with moments which dragged a little. Perhaps the single scene nature of the play was also somewhat to blame.

This haphazard writing also stretched into the stage directions, with exits and entrances which felt contrived, and purely to get cast members out of the way, for the next section of dialogue. A few minor tweaks here and there could easily smooth these out, but it was a little too obvious for my liking. Similarly, the character Ryan was lacking in depth or even much of a purpose, and I’m not sure this was actor Harry McMullens fault.

However, Alice Vilanculo’s protrayal of Bailey is a sight to behold – a terrifyingly honest insight into a student falling into the cracks of the system. It’s a masterclass in characterisation, down to the tiny details of twitches and quirks. Wholly believable, and Vilanculo delivers some of the best dialogue when perched atop a cupboard – every description of the horrors she had witnessed felt like a punch to the stomach, and the words will resonate with me for some time.

I would also like to hugely congratulate the beauty in the BSL performer, signing the performance. An additional character lurking in the background, I sometimes found myself watching the wonderful portrayal of the sometimes nonsensical words. It’s a shame she isn’t highlighted in the programme insert, because from costume to character, I was hugely impressed.

E8 is an all too real reflection on the many issues faced by thousands of students in our education and care system. With a little love and care, it’s new writing that could flourish into a masterpiece. It’s heartbreaking, but with moments of hope and light. It’s a story that needs to be told, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

And E8 is theatre that needs to seen.

Chris O’Mara

Twitter @aramoc