Tuesday, May 28

The Killer’s Conscience – The Black-E

City Theatre’s latest offering is an original psychological thriller written by Joe Gordon and directed by Carly Fisher, where friends Sean (Louis Cashin-Harris) and Elliot (Leo Hewitson) and his girlfriend Toni (Eleanor Smith) hang out at Darrius’ (John Ball) bar.

At work, Sean is confronted by his old school bully Lewis (Joe Gordon) looking for a refund but doesn’t receive the expected support from manager Max (Leanne Cooney). It’s clear Lewis’ behaviour runs in his family when we later meet Isiah (Johnny Sedgwick-Davies) before things turn from bad to worse for Sean when he discovers sister Charlie (Demi Wilson) is now dating Lewis.

What more could possibly go wrong for him? Well, a disciplinary with area manager David (Kieran Foster) is the least of his worries when things take a distinct turn for the worse as Di Peter (Viki Steadman) and Sergeant Johnson (Anna Chan) become involved: anything to get off your chest or have you got a clear conscience?

It’s an intriguing story but unfortunately its broken into too many parts so we end up with very short scenes of typically between 2 and 5 minutes in length that are no sooner set up than they are being taken down for the next one which results in a disjointed production, and we don’t get an opportunity to properly know and connect with the characters.

There is a golden rule of writing to show not tell, but partly because of this hurried scene structure we are told bit by bit what is happening, occasionally with repetition between scenes, which is more akin to colour by numbers which is a shame because underlining all of this is an intriguing idea, but we only really get a glimpse of it.

The director needed to challenge the material more in its structure because at the heart of the production is a good cast – I’ve seen many of them perform before – but the writing and its ultimate presentation didn’t allow them to bring much more than composed performances. In a couple of the longer scenes – just over five minutes – we saw some character development and to the credit of Cashin-Harris, Hewitson, and Gordon, they were able to exploit this when given this chance and give us a hint at what this play could have been.

The pity is that we saw more entertainment from Ball and hostess Lydia Pearl during the extended interval raffle draw because they had a good amount of time to perform; sadly, not everyone returned to even see that.

The basement venue offers some challenges of its own, so it was good to see the creation of wings on each side, but more thought needed to be given to audience sight lines and it was far too easy to become distracted by off-stage movements and wondering whether these were in fact related to the scene.

I would encourage Gordon to revisit and tighten up the script and look at how the story can be shown to give a greater depth to the characters, and for Fisher to challenge the structure so we can better understand and connect with the characters, baddies included, as the play unfolds. Assume your audience is intelligent enough to pick up on your cues.

And City Theatre, don’t be afraid to perform a revised version of this at a future point: there is a good idea lurking within it and if it can be coaxed out, you’ve certainly got a cast more than capable of doing it justice.

City Theatre is about community and producing work that can appeal to anyone and everyone. Further details https://www.cityentertainmentgroup.co.uk

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 25th March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★