nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 25, 2006
cloud:burst, a solo performance written and directed by Chris O'Connell that is being presented as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival, is a technical marvel. James Farncombe's lighting, in particular, is tremendous, carving up the floor of the tiny performing space into discrete geometric pools of color and texture that evoke not only mood but locale and time of day as well—the design proves that less can certainly be more when it's masterly and well-thought-out. Similarly, Andy Garbi's soundscape—ambient noises and clips, mostly—help shape the world of this play moment by moment.
Graeme Hawley's performance as the play's single character, a 30-something man named Dominic whose world has changed irrevocably because his daughter has been kidnapped and murdered, is technically dazzling as well: he assumes different postures and voice-tones to replay conversations that Dominic has had with his wife, Sandra, and with a journalist named Helen; he articulates with great precision the specific settings of each brief episode of the play within the bounds of Farncombe's rectangels and circles; he shifts effortlessly from the manic bereaved father embracing his 15 minutes of fame to the guilt-ridden dad who failed to protect his child from a monster and huddles helplessly on the floor in the fetal position.
Yet, for all its evident artistry, cloud:burst ultimately failed to move me. I think the chief reason is the script itself, which simply doesn't do enough. The outline of the tale is this: a man has lost his daughter to a predator; he's become a tiny media celebrity, which his wife dislikes; his marriage and then his sanity start to erode. An episode in which he tries to draw himself back into the limelight results in a physical and mental breakdown; and then he heads back toward his true nature and recovery. Potent stuff, but the playwright keeps it as sketchy as I've just laid it out—we never really get deeply into Dominic's head or heart, but instead skim their surfaces as O'Connell has his character move through the motions of all this personal drama without plunging within to reveal the genuine emotions underneath.
Plus, the play is very short—just 40 minutes; it leaves us wanting more information. (It's also too short for a full session of theatre, in my opinion; the producers of Brits Off Broadway would have done better to pair this with a contrasting short piece to create a more satisfying and full evening.)
So my final impression of cloud:burst is of art and artifice rather than of an authentic story deeply-felt or well-told. Perhaps because of its brevity, the seams show throughout cloud:burst, and I was never not aware that I was watching an actor abetted by designers straining to create art. That they do succeed in making something artful is testament to their skills; but cloud:burst would be more successful if it made its audience forget all the technique and instead become absorbed in the matter at its core.