Teen playwright premieres adult black comedy.
Audiences were treated to a sparkling gem of original theatre on the last weekend of summer holidays with All the Blue Areas, written, directed and produced by Guildford School of Acting freshman Louis Emmitt-Stern.
For the first time in over a decade, a production relied entirely on students – no adults allowed, except for the audience. The topics ranged from the credit crunch, sexism, sexual exploitation in the workplace, divorced parenthood, and abusive relationships.
Six young actors of the newly formed Gibraltar Student Theatre Society treaded the cosy boards of the Ince’s Hall Lower Studio to bring to life a black comedy of sharp psychological insight, plotted in a literarily mature style with accurate clinical analysis free from moral judgment or guidance.
Surely the edgy, raw, fast-paced dialogue, dotted with expletives that were relevant to the story and hence never vulgar, must have raised some eyebrows, yet Louis makes clear that his work doesn’t aim at being controversial for the sake of it. Instead, it aims at presenting a diorama of one social reality, amorally rather than immorally, highlighting values and flaws in each character so that they can stand out as truly human. “We’re not selling any sob-story about the right thing to do, with the inevitable happy ending, but ‘a’ story as it unravels behind closed doors, showing the good and bad in everyone, and how issues aren’t actually solved but spill beyond the ending into a cycle. It’s good to hear the audience laughing, because it means they are warming up, identifying with the characters but at the same time keeping their distance. I am happy the audience grasped the layers we tried to input in our characters.”
The 90-minute-long black comedy, set in stormy icy February, follows the lives of four – later five – young(ish) people sharing a rundown council flat and trying to make ends meet by running a clandestine porn site from home – casting, filming and all. Dreamer Gaby (Rachel Almeida), returning home from a clumsy date, bumps into former roommate Fin (Conor McGibney), back on a break from Barcelona where he’s become a superstar, and she offers him to crash at her pad, much to the annoyance of anankastic power-suited businesswoman Paige (Christina Linares), overstressed not just by clipped phone calls. Meanwhile, narcissistic Andy (Louis Emmitt-Stern) is unable to share his insecure boyfriend Jan’s (Stefan Garcia) excitement at the news from his ex-wife Clare (Melanie Trinidad) eventually allowing him to spend an afternoon unsupervised with the four-year old son they’d conceived right before their painful divorce.
When Andy carelessly recounts their day out to the park to feed the ducks on the frozen lake, and Jan’s unsuccessful attempt to save the kid from drowning in ‘the blue areas beneath the ice […] submerging into a pool of freezing cold sewage water’, through his emotionally detached, bored even, point of view of an inconvenient afternoon, he definitely tops Paige and Gaby’s shock at learning how Fin’s seemingly rocketing career and welfare are irremediably marred by bullying and substance addiction.
And just when the right thing is about to be done, with Jan being incapable to clean up his mess and shoot his ex-wife, kneeling tied and gagged in their living room, the deus ex machina is provided by Fin erratically fiddling with the gun in his drunken stupor. With the suggestion that perhaps Paige never approves of any of Gaby’s boyfriends because of her own unrequited love for her, and Andy’s theatrical storming off suitcase in hand, Jan is left alone to wallow in his toxic relationships failures, noting even suicide requires a measure of courage that he hasn’t got.
“The couple Andy-Jan started out as a heterosexual relationship, but I realised it would be more interesting and challenging if I explored the co-dependent power dynamics between two men instead, especially because the theme of the end of a homosexual relationship is still little touched in literature, as far as I know,” Louis says.
He started by creating the characters, in which he grinds a bit of himself as well as people he observes around him, in person or on TV, and from novels or plays he read, later weaving them into the story, that he wanted to be funny and in-your-face, and yet aimed at making the audience question how much of those characters lies within themselves or the people they interact with in real life.
This isn’t Louis’s first work, though: shortlisted in a worldwide competition for an attachment to be developed into a full play, his ‘Monologues for a New World’ touches upon the issues of abortion, human trafficking and prostitution, again with objective scientific observation and empathy for the human condition.
“As an actor, one must see reality from one’s character point of view, so one must love the character as much as oneself, even if the character is as despicable as mine, if one wants to make the performance convincing,” Louis says. “The actor must be comfortable in the characters’ shoes, without judging them.”
Having already proven to be a talented actor in other productions, directed by Alex Menez and Daniel Strain-Webber, Louis considers himself first and foremost a writer, whether a playwright, a poet or a storyteller. And as he is off to Uni to study – you guessed it – Theatre, he is planning to sneak a cheeky poem in the adult category of the Autumn Poetry Competition just before he goes, after winning the sixth-form category last year with ‘Portrait’, a syncopated stream-of-conscience nostalgic rant about adult responsibilities against the backdrop of romanticised childhood.