By Sam Cox, Second Year English
Clay Party and Conflicted Theatre’s unsettling synthesis of modern dating and true crime was met with a well-deserved standing ovation on the first of its two nights at The Wardrobe Theatre in Old Market.
There is a lingering sense of dread underpinning the broadly comedic opening thirty minutes of Fiji as the audience slowly begins to realise that Nick (Eddie Loodmer-Elliott) and Sam (Pedro Leandro) have entered into an arrangement far more fatalistic than a simple Tinder date. It is an arrangement which, if gone through with, has all the makings of a particularly grisly Hannibal Lecter film. As the laughs (and there are plenty of them) turn to grimaces, genuine emotion peers from beneath a purposefully surface-level opening act and the two lead performances become shockingly deep and affected, unsettlingly human one minute and disturbingly frank the next.
Conflicted Theatre have previously pursued a guerrilla take on contemporary theatre, utilising disused warehouses, office buildings and elevators in their past productions, and this approach is transferred to the more formal setting of the Wardrobe. Its small, simple living-room set feels intimate at first but becomes uncomfortably claustrophobic as the drama unfolds. Director Evan Lordan and his two co-writers in lead actors and Old Vic Theatre School alumni Loodmer-Elliott and Leandro play further with this false initial sense of security by employing a nonlinearity in their storytelling which keeps the audience guessing until the very end.
The stories told in true crime podcasts and TV shows can often feel detached from our own world, generally taking place decades in the past and in small towns thousands of miles away from us, and perhaps this is what makes them so bingeworthy; shows like Mindhunter, for example, literally take these real-life criminals and turn them into fictional characters. Fiji cleverly relies on that sense of detachment and subverts it, placing it in our contemporary world of online dating and bringing it uncomfortably close to home, posing questions on everything from the fallibility of online dating to the paradoxical nature of romantic commitment. In other words, Fiji gives us plenty of food for thought.
Featured Image: Conflicted Theatre
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