A study done by Harvard University in 2013 showed that the average American spends 37, 935 hours of their life in car. That’s a little over four years. We spend so much time in cars, cocooned in speeding shell of plastic and steel, protected, yes, but at one remove from the outside world. Being in a car can bring with it a sense of detatchment that invites candour and confession.
Neil La Bute, the American playwright who wrote ‘Autobahn’, said himself:
“Sitting in an automobile was where I first remember understanding how drama works…Hidden in the back seat of a sedan, I quickly realised how deep the chasm or intense the claustrophobia could be inside your average family car.”
Bath-based theatre company The Scullion Neoterics brought their production of Autobahn to the Shoebox Theatre last night. A cast of ten players tackled the seven mini-plays (Road Trip, Merge, Bench Seat, Funny, Long Division, Autobahn and All Apologies) that blur together to form the two act whole. Each vignette plays out in a moving or stationary vehicle in a variety of scenarios, from a visit to a local beauty spot gone wrong to a revelatory drive back from rehab. Three of the scenes were duologues between actors on the stage played out with them sat in the shells of genuine cars, lights glaring dimly at the audience. The rest of the cast were sat among the audience conversing with audience members. The latter set-up became a bit of a ‘neckbreaker’ for me as I was sat in the front row (but I suppose that serves me right for sitting in the front row).
The general tone of the pieces is darkly tragicomic, but some, if not all of them, plumb bleaker and more unpleasant depths by the end. This gradual descent was handled excellently in this production, allowing the general sense of unease to grow until the ‘Road Trip’ thread of the play ended on a suitably uncomfortable note. The choice to anglecise the play was a wise choice, I think – it’s all too easy for one duff American accent to spoil a show – although one or two Americanisms, like ‘pay check’ did slip through the net. I was probably the only member of the audience that this bothered, but then I am a grumpy old man who notices things like that.
The performances were universally very good, but I have to pick out Bill Bowden in Road Trip and Charlotte Hobbs in Merge for particular praise. Hobbs’ performance as a wife returning from a business trip with a confession to tell was deliberately vague and delightfully playful. Meanwhile Bowden’s gradual turn from insecure lover to unblinkingly manic Glenn Close-style ‘bunny boiler’ was unsettling hilarious.
Overall The Scullion Neoterics presented a very assuredly handled and well-mounted production of an intelligent, funny, often uncomfortable and knotty script. Well chosen, well told and well done.