Portents Photo credit: Why This Sky

Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey

A little disclaimer before I start with the business of the review; Portents isn’t just Portents, it’s three distinct performances, which – on the night I saw it – consisted of a spoken word performance by Chloe Mashiter, the play itself, and then an audio-visual experience by Laura Netz (which I didn’t catch).

So, onto the review. First up was Chloe Mashiter, alone on stage apart from a laptop and a microphone. The performance itself is hard to describe without giving too much away; it began as a sort of horror scenario (camping in a car with strangers, a dead battery and a mysterious flashing light) before building into something a lot stranger and more interesting – what I can only describe as a sci-fi exploration of grief. It was a slow starter for me but as the story progressed, there was something about the structure, or maybe Mashiter herself that made it hugely enjoyable – like a campfire tale, or a podcast I would definitely listen to (in fact, any fans of Alice Isn’t Dead would perhaps recognise the eerie vibe). To assist Mashiter in her tale is a crackling voice from the laptop, acting as a kind of call and response. It’s a good way to add some more grounding to a fantastical story, with the tone calling up images of The Blair Witch Project. My only slight gripe: the atmospheric crackle made it a little hard to hear, and straining to follow a voice can jolt you out of a performance. Overall it was a really solid performance, so much so that I felt it was a shame that it didn’t get quite enough appreciation from the audience.

Portents itself consisted almost entirely of three performers on stage, looming ominously over music stands. The stands themselves were a nice touch; a way to allow the performers to keep track of the often-overlapping dialogue while maintaining the requisite eerie vibe. This isn’t a traditional play; storylines overlap and break apart from each other, and there are whole sections that serve to assist the story but don’t actually further anything. What’s the story – or theme maybe? – you ask? Well. Aliens.

There’s a lot of fun stuff here – with the whackier material you really need to lean in and, thank God, Portents is practically horizontal. Portents really shines when it’s winking at the crazies; like the excerpts from message boards, read out incredibly faithfully and in-character. It’s funny and interesting, and ties in to a deeper overall theme; are these lonely people just trying to feel like there might be friends in the stars? What you might call a plotline, chopped and changed between these more experimental sections, also deals with this possibility, in a way that feels hopeful and distressing. There’s a lot of originality here; the only problem is that sometimes it gets lost in the noise of its own layers. There’s a section towards the end that involves the overlapping of voices – not bad on its own, but it goes on for way, way too long. It feels self-indulgent, and frankly it drags. It also gets in the way of an insane, hilarious ending that involves lip-syncing to Harry Styles and tin foil, which is a shame.

Portents Photo credit: Why This Sky

My verdict? Portents is a fun and weird night, that would benefit from some light trimming.

Rating: 3.5*

Portents runs at The Space until 2 March 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.

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