The Retreat was performed at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and will be performed on Friday 24th September at 4pm at the New Theatre

The Retreat follows Nick, played by Sam Pearce, a twenty something chef who has brought his girlfriend Flora to Stoke-On-Sea for what appears to be a weekend away. But when a man named Curtis of the same age enters the plot it becomes clear there is a purpose for this spontaneous holiday. As the story unfolds with its almost limitless surprises, twists and turns the audience are constantly piecing together the information cleverly delivered to them in small, teasing doses. It soon becomes to focus increasingly on a past event involving Nick and Curtis.

The director, Becky Catlin, has a very definitive style, one that has developed and improved during her time at New Theatre. The Retreat is an example of Becky at her best; it was gritty, intense, raw, but polished and emotionally charged from start to finish. Although this style isn’t to my usual taste, I found I was heavily engaged throughout the show and it’s clear Becky is a talented director. Jenni Herzberg’s writing is very compatible with Becky’s directional style: she combines an extreme situation with natural dialogue and well-developed characterization; it’s good to see solid student writing and I hope Jenni pursues her talent further.

Four intense acting performances create the thick atmosphere needed to make this play come alive. A truly stimulating performance from Pete Cary (as Curtis) should not go without mention; his stage presence and the apparent ease with which he delivers the most sinister of lines never ceases to impress. Amy Rushton, playing Curtis’ partner Ellie provides a balancing innocence to Curtis’s dark sarcasm which she put across very well, amusing he audience from the off. Sam Pearce creates a very clear picture of his tricky character and in so doing I was compelled to empathise with Nick’s situation. Jamie Munro (as Flora) conveys her character’s reactions very convincingly and held good composure throughout

There were a couple of points at which I felt the plot was overcomplicated and needed to stick to the point, but these were minor instances which had little effect upon the overall show. By contrast, some parts of the story could have been better explained. Unfortunately the play does not appear to lend itself favourably to a thrust stage. At points the actors’ blocking seemed to hinder the natural movements of their characters, but this is unavoidable in the space and was dealt with professionally by the cast.

Anyone who likes dramatic theatre will love this show and I recommend it. Full credit is due to all involved; they are a talented cast and crew and it’s obvious that they share a clear vision for the show which came across from the stage.

Chris Walters

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