Reviews for AT FIRST SIGHT

“Like the fleeting romance it observes, ‘At First Sight’ is the epitome of short and sweet.” Time Out **** (read more at http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/event/42141/at-first-sight)

“A highly original dramatization of the aftermath of a holiday romance, in which Norris’ script manages to lend an almost Proustian dimension to that depressingly familiar “why-won’t-he-call?” dilemma.” Oxford Theatre Review *****

“A dynamic, energetic performance which drew the audience in” Oxford Theatre Review ****

At First Sight is blessed with some wonderfully evocative and descriptive narrative passages… the dialogue has a wonderfully dreamy, Beckettian poetic punch. Charles Reston and Roseanna Frascona are both excellent in the lead roles… Sound designer Will Stuart does a great job… Special mention must also go to lighting designer Alex Dickens, who creates a wonderfully moody ambience throughout… Alice Hamilton directs the play expertly, the romanticism and awkwardness of the two protagonists is subtle to the point of perfection.” Daily Info

Oxford Theatre Review

* * * * *

Barney Norris’ play opens with a scene that is pure Richard Curtis, as the attractive, young and just a little bit rah Holly and Jack strike up cutely stilted conversation on a balcony at an Austrian ski resort. However, just as you reach for the sick bucket, ‘At First Sight’ reveals itself for what it really is: a highly original dramatization of the aftermath of a holiday romance, in which Norris’ script manages to lend an almost Proustian dimension to that depressingly familiar “why-won’t-he-call?” dilemma. Holly is a shrill and spectacularly horsey only-child, Jack a smug musician who plays the piano at the ritzy Salzburg resort where she is holidaying. Charles Reston executes brilliantly the self satisfied and ever so slightly grating enthusiasm of an expat singing the praises of his new home, while the audience cannot help but warm to Roseanna Frascona’s wide-eyed daddy’s girl.

The two deal well with the challenging but rewarding script, which dramatizes the endless inner monologue that follows the end of a love affair. They revisit the circumstances and events of their romance with a series of tableaux, through which they are ably directed by Alice Hamilton, re-staging their meetings and conversations over and over again until they pull apart their memories to a confused abstraction. They create their own narratives through a satisfying mix of almost poetic observations, and of the kind of clichés which we cannot help but apply to our love lives. As they turn over the past, Jack and Holly often trail off, or stare into the middle distance. This uneasy air is coupled with their frustrated attempts to stabilize the image of each other by recalling who said what, when they said it, and how they met, to add an unreal, distant quality to what we see unfolding, which is perfect for transposing our memories to the stage. Its success pivots mainly on a neat inversion of expectations; whereas audiences often have a story acted out for them and are left to guess about characters’ motivation, here is a play in which thought process is everything and action a distant past relayed through allusion and memory.

It speaks to the power of Norris’ writing that characters that are intentionally rather vapid and dull become so appealing; despite the added difficulty in staging something so psychological and abstract as an exploration of memory, by the end we become well and truly invested in Holly and Jack’s really quite believable relationship, and there is a definite sense of tragedy as they are ultimately forced to accept the inaccessibility of their past. At only 45 minutes, ‘At First Sight’ is certainly no epic voyage of the mind, but three-quarters of an hour is all it takes to become absorbed by this sometimes funny, often innovative, and extremely smart play.

Joe Horton

* * * *

At First Sight tells the story of two lovers, Jack and Holly, who reminisce and recount their experiences in love in the 45 minutes of the play. Obviously this duration is incredibly short, but I would argue against anyone who says that such a compact performance leaves one wanting. Compact describes the play well: it was a dynamic, energetic performance which drew the audience in, an intimacy and engagement which is compounded by the size of the Burton Taylor Studio itself.

The staging is minimal: evidently Norris planned to fill the performance-space with the personalities of and the interactions between the characters, which of course if ambitious of any author, but is nevertheless rewarding if it works well: which, for the most part, it did in At First Site. Two chairs is all it takes for Reston and Frascona to become the reminiscing Jack and Holly (although we are never told their names), and Frascona especially fills her role well, making use of the intimacy of the studio by engaging powerfully with the audience. The idea that the play records “memories looping back through one another as they try to share a past they can never return to”, as the program puts it, is stimulating to watch. The use of music and lighting to introduce the memories which are played out in front of us is subtle, but effective, and the way in which the two actors play out scenes as their characters try to recall them is commendable: the small space of the studio is by no means a restriction. The 45 minutes goes quickly, yet because you are so engaged with the two characters, and because of the fluid nature of the narrative, you do not feel bored.

Overall, the performance was enjoyable: the actors engaged well with the audience, and the lovers depicted were convincing, as multi-dimensional and layered as the reminiscences and ideas that they played out. Norris does well to create this nuanced idea of romance, and the effects that distance from this romance has on the lover are played out clearly and effortlessly. Finally, Up In Arms productions says that it wants to leave every audience “up in arms”: I wouldn’t say that this was my exact reaction, but the play poses provoking questions on the nature of love in an enjoyable production that leaves you satisfied.

Joe Nicholson

Daily Info

“At First Sight” is the first play by Oxford University graduate Barney Norris. Written in 2008, it’s been doing the rounds at theatres throughout the country since, winning the Drama Association Of Wales’s Act Play Competition in 2010.

The play tells the story of two young people, Jack and Holly, who cast their minds back to a time they spent in Salzburg. Jack is earning his money playing a piano in the bar of a hotel, whilst Holly is down for a skiing trip with her parents. Jack is lower middle class, whilst Holly is very much upper middle class; “proper English” as Jack opines in one scene. The opening scene, in which Jack lights up a cigarette and offers one to Holly, only for her to initially decline and eventually succumb to the wicked pleasures of a nicotine hit, is repeated thrice in the production, seemingly for dramatic effect. The third recap is extremely poignant; to elaborate further would ruin the story somewhat, so it is probably best left alone at this point in time. The play relies on flashback, with both characters recounting the moment via the medium of narration.

“At First Sight” is blessed with some wonderfully evocative and descriptive narrative passages. The choreography throughout is excellent; the aforementioned repeated scene in which Jack offers Holly a cigarette is pure film noir, whilst the dialogue has a wonderfully dreamy, Beckettian poetic punch. Charles Reston and Roseanna Frascona are both excellent in the lead roles, displaying a quiet intensity and impresssive feel for narrative language which will surely guarantee them both a future in the world of acting. Sound designer Will Stuart does a great job; firework displays, classical music and spoken word passages are all brought vividly to life, skillfully avoiding the technical hazards which can sometimes mar productions in smaller venues like the Burton Taylor Studio. Special mention must also go to lighting designer Alex Dickens, who creates a wonderfully moody ambience throughout, and image designer Matthew Ward, whose visual flair makes for some great dramatic scenes. Alice Hamilton directs the play expertly, the romanticism and awkwardness of the two protagonists is subtle to the point of perfection.

In my opinion, the play’s only fault is that it’s too damn short! I would have liked to see some more of the underlying tension that pervades the two lovers throughout; with leads as good as this, 45 minutes is not nearly enough! Although the repeated scene is, admittedly, extremely well executed and full of sexual tension, I personally think the second rehash could have been replaced with more of the evocative dialogue and doomy sense of longing that pervades the rest of the play, just to level the proceeedings out a little. Apart from these minor quibbles, this is a lovely piece of theatre which I would particularly recommend to married and non-married couples. Great stuff.

Sean Diamond

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