By Carmel shortall
Square Peg describe their first production, Forwards and Backwards as “a dramatic jigsaw played at intense speed and with relentless energy”. It is the story of a couple and their relationship which is told forwards and backwards in time, each scene a clue, a part of the narrative jigsaw to be pieced together by the audience as more and more of the overall picture emerges. Many scenes take place on a train travelling forwards and backwards between London and Manchester. The train is a metaphor; the play is a journey – but not all the stops are in the right order.
Fragments of a couple’s first meeting on the train are measured out over the length of the play. Likewise, we visit them several times during what might be their last trip together. In between is how they got there: the journey of their relationship. There are happy moments and tragic ones; lullabies for a newborn baby intersperse the arguments, jealousy and depression.
Each scene is prefigured or reflected elsewhere. Near the beginning of the play, but towards the end of their story, Gary confesses to having told two lies – one appears trivial, one does not. When these moments appear in the play, they have all the more impact for having been signposted.
Using only a box as a prop and elements of physical theatre, Square Peg have managed to “escape the rigidity of a two-dimensional page” and create a truly three-dimensional, living, piece of theatre. Michael White and Katie Robinson both give strong performances, portraying Gary and Katherine with subtlety and sympathy despite each character’s very human selfishness.
Forwards and Backwards is complex and rich but not at all complicated or difficult to follow. Each successive scene draws you in further as the story unravels in time and space. This really is an assured and ambitious work and one of the highlights of 2012’s Camden Fringe Festival.
I spoke to Michael White and Katie Robinson – Square Peg – after the performance at the Camden People’s Theatre. Forwards and Backwards is their first production. It is a devised piece: one that has been developed over time – in this case hundreds of hours of workshops – on stage, in rehearsal, through trial and error and only then scripted. It was not ‘written’ in advance of any staging. “The script is a document of the final product”, says Michael. It is not a starting point. He added that he couldn’t imagine having created this just “sat at a computer”.
The initial inspiration for the piece was a limerick but the play itself evolved from a short piece based on conversations, phone calls and arguments overheard on the train between Manchester and London and one of its strengths is the realistic dialogue which still follows the dynamics of real arguments and conversations.
What started out as many journeys and many voices was whittled down over time to just the story of one couple. Additional characters and props were finally rejected and the pared down piece now showing at the CPT is pretty much the final version. The play has been performed most recently at the Buxton Fringe where they were nominated for Best Production and Katie won Best Actress.
I asked ‘what next’ for both Square Peg and Forwards and Backwards after their Camden Fringe run: they will be returning to Manchester where the play will perform at the Three Minute Theatre on the 27th August and elsewhere in September.
There once was a man who said
It is borne in upon me that I am,
A creature that moves
In predestinate grooves;
Not even a bus, but a tram.”