When Pink Floyd started out, they did some striking singles that were emblematic of a generation making music in new ways - 'Arnold Layne', 'See Emily Play', and 'Julia Dream' were pop confections that still charm today. By the time their career initially ended with The Final Cut, they were immersed in confusing narratives to do with family history, stretched across songs that also dealt with world events, on an album that seemed like it wanted to be a movie. Where some of the most vibrant work I have seen at Nottingham Playhouse’s John Neville Studio has been alive with sparky work that has the spirit of early Floyd, Between The Two has much in common with The Final Cut.
There’s promise in the raw material concocted by co-creator and director Daniel Tyler and writer Rochi Rampal, drawn from Tyler’s family experience. A brother and sister come over from India to Britain in the 1940s on a ship with their father. There’s heaps of material to work with: from India’s caste system and the family’s place in it, given that these are family members with British parents who are in the country thanks to colonialism -- to Indian independence; and the reception Indians will get in the UK. In practice, it’s too much material – relating a national history and personal events in the same relatively short piece means both elements lose out. A non-linear structure doesn’t help – characters both thinking back and looking forward can work when there’s clean demarcation about which is which, but it isn’t always clear.
Focus is the key issue, and perhaps the desire to honour family history when a stronger story might have been created by changing events for the convenience of the narrative. That’s what dramatic licenses are awarded for. Instead, there’s a pudding of information and characters, all of it interesting in its own right, but with no certainty about what’s central and what’s frippery. A lot of material has been gathered to create this piece, and a lot of people contribute to it, but the layers – actors playing multiple parts; extra information through voiceovers; simultaneity of past, present, and future – create confusion.
On this occasion, a firm hand to create strong stable theatre really would have been appreciated. Other shows I’ve seen in the same venue have delivered just that. I’m thinking in particular of Shit Theatre’s Letters To Windsor House. Two women delivered a witty and provocative show layering personal experience, politics, music, and film with urgency and power, and those two women pulled off the whole thing without anything like the resources that went into Between The Two.
Between The Two was at Nottingham Playhouse 16th June 2017.