Review written by Ellie Cansdale
As part of a working class programme of theatre produced and brought to the fringe by Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company, Inner Triangle Productions gives us Assigned.
Have you ever felt boxed in by others and society? Ever felt that you’ve been given labels that don’t fit or work with who you are? Assigned explores just this and more. A heart-felt and moving piece of theatre with expertly timed comedic moments.
As a small company, they achieve a high level of creativity and ingenuity in this unique piece that begs the question of who we are and why we have to confine our very being into one “neat and tidy box”. Not long after we sit down, the lights fade and ethereal music plays through the speakers. We stay in the dark as a large lightbox is turned on revealing a figure on the stage. The opening sequence follows this figure carrying the box down the aisle meeting another figure standing at the back of the audience. They are spellbound and begin to follow the box back to the stage where the lights are switched on and we are greeted by a voice.
The two figures on stage, one in pyjamas, the other dressed in all black, begin a sequence of movement depicting the person in pyjamas being confined to this space. The voice-over begins to tell us about this void of existence and identity, and asks us how we can fit everything about us into one box. A question that is brought up throughout the piece. The movement ends and we are thrown into a blackout, brought back to a blue and white wash with the pyjama-clad performer (Gina Jovanovic) on the stage. The figure from before reenters (played by Bradley Pattison) and we soon learn that they are in a warehouse owned by the company Assigned. We watch Pattison check and fill cardboard boxes with an assortment of items across the stage until Jovanovic wakes up. The two performers hold the stage well, as Jovanovic’s character learns where they are; a warehouse that assigns things, and labels to people, building their lives and giving them a template from which to create their personality. We watch as Pattison fills a box with “wine and cheese”, with a warning that it’s “fragile” adding some satirical humour to the piece.
The play follows Ros (Jovanovic), as they are shown a series of memories and moments from their life that made them who they are today. The company plays with lighting and sound to signify changes of mood and to create place on the stage. After Ros is shown how the warehouse works, we meet their mum (played by Iona Wilkins), pregnant with Ros and celebrating at her baby shower. The stage is lit half pink, half blue. Pattison multiroles through this show and he appears here in his second role as the anger-filled father. We see the parents argue over a toy that's too “pink and soft”, the father worried they will have a soft child; the mother furious by this reaction. This scene sets the tone and outline for the rest of the play; a series of events and negative motivations from the father ingrained in Ros that helped to shape their personality.
We watch arguments unfold between the parents in front of Ros as their present day self, and their reaction to this. Amongst these scenes, we go back to the warehouse, where we see Ros taking in and understanding the importance of these moments. We’re hit with a few tough scenes as we watch Ros’ dad teach them how to box against their will and a scene between mum and teacher (another of Pattison’s roles) where Ros’ emotions come to a head and they snap. This moment showcases a great use of voice over and lighting change as the whole stage is flooded in red upon the word “stop” shouted by Ros. We then hear different characters applying labels to Ros such as “soft” and “pathetic”, further reminding us of the Assigned Warehouse’s role in all this.
Gina Jovanovics writing cleverly takes the audience back and forth between memory and warehouse, dropping in moments of comedic relief to allow the audience a rest from the other heavy topics touched upon in the play. A notable comedic moment is when the warehouse worker at Assigned (played by Pattison) gives Ros a phone number for a helpline to call, hoping it will help get them out. Upon declaring they have no phone, we hear one ring nearby and the lights flash in synchronicity. They answer, and we are greeted by a very realistic automated message from the Assigned customer service helpline. The scene plays out a very funny conversation between an infuriated Ros and a very unhelpful helpline who can’t help them regardless of what information they can provide. Throughout this the audience can’t stop laughing at its familiarity though empathetic towards Ros and their situation.
Jovanovic’s embodiment of all things Ros represents stands strong throughout. There is clear character development from a confused and pressured person to one who is willing and wanting to push the boundaries that society puts upon us. The performances of both Pattison and Wilkins are strong and each performer embodies their character(s) well. Wilkin’s mother is gentle but firm with both Ros and their dad, fitting the tone of the play's exploration well. Pattison manages to switch between characters well making a clear distinction between each one.
Although at points the direction of the piece could use a bit of development with regards to the blocking of some scenes and the pacing of the dialogue, but the play on the whole was strong and explored a topic that I think we could do with seeing more of in performances. I left the play, with the feeling of “screw society and its labels,” we can be who we want to be, in all aspects of life, alongside thinking about the labels we attach to others and what that does to them. An important message we could all carry with us.
Congratulations to Inner Triangle Productions for their successful run at the Fringe gaining 4 star reviews. If you’re free and want to see this production, the company will be performing Assigned at the Rockwell Centre, Bradford on 20th October.