nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 9, 2005
Faster—which is far and away the most interesting and exciting entry in this year's Brits Off Broadway festival—is the creation of a smart new London-based company called Filter. Inspired by, of all things, a book by popular science writer James Gleick, it tells the story of three young adults coping with the acceleration of life on Planet Earth in the 21st century. We see these three generally likeable people adopt different strategies and experience different amounts of satisfaction/happiness; inevitably, they're powerless to alter the pace of human existence—but some of them would sure like to try, and I for one know just what they mean.
The characters are Will, Victoria, and Ben. Will and Ben are flatmates and also co-workers at an advertising agency; their current project is to develop a campaign for a pension fund (not the sexiest of advertisers); their core "big idea" is to use an innovative "five-second spot" to build awareness of the product.
Victoria is a longtime friend of Will's—he has nursed a crush on her for decades, to which she's been at least officially oblivious—who has returned to London after a year abroad. That year was downtime following big success at a high-powered law firm; she dropped out (on her own terms, with enough cash to subsidize her fancy) and went around the world. Now she's back home but not entirely ready to re-enter the world she left behind. She immediately begins an affair with Ben and finds a temporary job as a phone operator for an event ticketing company.
The various threads of this story weave and sometimes interweave over the course of weeks or maybe even months (for a show about time, Faster's actual timeline is fairly loose). Things work out, some the way we were hoping, others the way we were expecting, and life marches on. Whether or not it is progressing is a question left for the audience to work out and is indeed one of the points of the play.
But the main idea here is the HOW rather than the WHAT: Faster is about how life is lived in the age of high technology, and not at all incidentally how theatre may be experienced under 21st century circumstances. The whole play happens in about 75 minutes, on a stage that's bare except for the occasional table or chair, with three actors as the main characters plus two others on the sidelines who portray everyone else that's needed and provide musical accompaniment and a dazzling array of sound effects (electronically, mostly; sometimes literally by pounding on a computer keyboard). The sound, which is designed by Chris Branch, Tom Haines, and Tim Phillips, is the most spectacularly noticeable element of this production and probably also the most effective: don't underestimate the evocative and suggestive power of the briefest of sound blips in setting up a situation or creating an ambience. Case in point: a restaurant that is established simply by the low-key clanging together of a single fork and knife. Branch and Phillips, by the way, are the on-stage actor/musician/sound technicians, and they're remarkable.
Just as important for our understanding of both the what and the how is the narrative structure. What it resembles most is hypertext, like we see on the Internet: segments—some of which are very very short, and several of which are reprised and/or performed repetitively, fuguelike—bounce around, chronologically but not necessarily linearly; our job is to pay attention and see where the play has traveled to with each new vignette. Filter accomplishes transitions and storytelling masterfully, and so this turns out to be not as tough as it could be: it's always clear what's going on, where we are, and how we got there. It's also often surprising—that's one of the neat things about this methodology. Just about everything in Faster plays out in a kind of shorthand—sometimes literally, as when Ben speaks aloud the text message he's sending to Vic's cell phone; much overlaps. It feels, in short, very much like our overloaded real lives, in which beepers, phones, emails, and oh yes actual living real people all vie for our apparently shrinking supply of time. Faster happens fast, as if against a pressing deadline; and it is this relentless pace that ends up conveying, unsubtly but elegantly, the evening's theme.
The actors are superb: Will Adamsdale (Will), Victoria Moseley (Victoria), and Ferdy Roberts (Ben) each creates a very recognizable type here, and probably the one you identify most with will signify volumes about who you are. That the three characters remain so completely human throughout is tribute to their talent. Director Guy Retallack and writer Stephen Brown must also be mentioned for contributions to a whole so seamless that it's very difficult indeed to know who deserves credit for what. The important point is that Faster is outstanding in every department. Some of the future of stagecraft is on view here; even if the sentiments are sometimes familiar, the presentation is innovative and often unique. This makes Faster must-see theatre for the adventurous and the curious. And I will certainly await eagerly whatever Filter comes up with next. Let's hope they'll find visionary producers like the folks at 59e59 to bring them back to America soon.