Eight out of tannin [by Matt Baker]
If you’ve ever wondered what The Basement greenroom looks like, or the stories its walls could tell, Wine Lips is the answer. From the authentic show posters featured on Bex Isemonger’s set and Amber Molloy’s inventive lighting design, both of which thankfully make full use of the greenroom mirror, to the stalwart ease of actress and actor Chelsea McEwan Millar and Nic Sampson, and the brutal honesty of writer/director Sam Brooks’s script, Wine Lips is as close as you’ll get without having to step a foot into the industry. There are, however, myriad meta-fictional jokes, many of which would go over non-industry audience members’ heads, and the references to both real and fictional people, performances, and places awkwardly blurs the line of witnessing a based-on-a-true-story/names-have-been-changed-to-protect-identities style tale.
Sampson (Scotty) plays a nicely understated balance between the genuine mourning and misplaced defences of both a cynical ex-partner and disillusioned director, his motivations betraying his actions. McEwan Millar (Brit) proves that you can take the girl out of the theatre, but you can’t take the drama out of the girl in a well-pitched intellectually and emotionally resonant performance, the fragility of the latter on the constant verge of breaking in response to Sampson’s unrelenting drive. Before anyone cries “poor actor”, I would suggest they turn the arguments onto their own lives to see the validity in case. While no one likes to think of themselves as the “bad guy” in any relationship, Scotty’s honesty somehow prevails over Brit’s convictions.
Brooks’ script doesn’t introduce anything new to this all-too-familiar storyline, however, the context and site-specific performance are enough to prevent the material becoming stale – no matter how well we might know the dialogue from our real lives. While this dialogue has a solid ring of truth to it, there are some lines, especially in regards to the industry, that sound unnaturally clean in their content, and which Sampson and McEwan Millar deliver unconvincingly. It’s ironic as much as it is expected when the text is undoubtedly so close to the bone.
The ending belies the superficial conflict of the play, with Brit betraying herself with her placement as the if-clause in her conditional ultimatum, and while the eponymous speech is a nice story, its position within the narrative, and consequently its expositional nature, feels forced. Scotty and Brit’s final moment is drawn out far too long, and the physicalisation conflicts with what should be a heart-wrenching catharsis.
Brooks orchestrates a seamless narrative flow in conjunction with his dialogue, the pace responding to the structure of the discourse. Sampson’s independent activities provide sensibly justified movements to prevent the physical rhythm from stagnating, and the drudgery of their execution, which hark back to his character motivations, is summed up perfectly with the most subtle of glances. Geordie Holibar’s role is a purely functional device, operated on a low setting, and is ultimately unnecessary.
While Wine Lips has taken a particularly enticing angle with its marketing and context, its advantage lies in the universality of its content. Compromises and sacrifices are difficult balances in any relationship, regardless of your career, and I would challenge anyone to not identify in some way with either (or both) of these characters or their respective stories’.
Wine Lips is presented by Smoke Labours Productions and plays at 7pm and 9:30pm at The Basement until August 30. For details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Nik Smythe