Exploring the idea of what happens to us after we die, Artemis Fitzalan Howard‘s new production of GATE uses witty dialogue and contemporary themes to create a ‘gate to heaven’ where four twenty-somethings who have died and arrive at the gate having absolutely no idea how they got there. Once they’ve arrived, they have to do a series of tasks in order to determine whether they go ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’.
Staged in the Cockpit theatre, the intimacy of the space is ideal for the performance as it allow us to connect with each individual story and feel invested in the non-realistic ambiance of the middle ground between life and heaven. Enhancing this are the four singers dressed as modern angels that stand above the audience on the balcony, providing enthralling transitions with their choral harmonies between scenes. Director Sadie Spencer has excellently struck the balance between the naturalistic characterisation and surreal atmosphere.
Emma Dennis-Edwards’ as Eve the receptionist and ‘guardian of the gate’ is an exceptional performance that provides an abundance of humour, her outspoken and confident tone is hilariously brilliant alongside her ditsy persona. The stark differences between the four characters who have died and arrive at the GATE is superbly written by Fitzalan Howard. The conversation and conflict in the waiting room is compelling, as it swells from lighthearted comic moments to twinges of deeply heartfelt dialogue. The layers are structured well as we uncover the insecurities and fears of the characters as the story unfolds.
Eleanor Henderson’s portrayal as the blunt, sarcastic Rebecca clashes well with Joe McArdle playing the sympathetic Luke who is holding on to a previous romance with Rebecca. Katie Sherrard’s depiction of Esther, the uptight and self-riotous young lady who is desperate to do good has impressive character progression, as her bewilderment spirals into anger. Wil Coban’s performance as Mark brings some light relief to the group of millennials as his slight stupidity and arrogance is exceedingly funny.
Fitzalan Howard’s writing is incredibly in touch with reality, such as when the characters are scrolling through their Facebook pages to see what people have written. Some are surprised by the kindness of the messages and others angry at the people who barely knew them posting overly soppy messages as if they were best friends, which is something that really resonates with our modern society. The only issues I had were with the way a few of them had died, whilst Esther’s story was moving and surprising, Luke and Rebecca just kind of dropped the fact they died of terminal cancer and it didn’t really correlate with the rest of the production, for example I doubt Rebecca would be smart stylish office clothes if she had just died of terminal cancer.
GATE is a comedic production that is strongly written as it asks the powerful question about what happens to us after we die. It has a powerful core message of how we live our life intertwined with interesting characters and their amusing interactions. Eve’s final monologue is poignant and delivered by Dennis-Edwards in a thoughtful way, as it emphasises the frustration of not knowing what really is up there and how the choices we make in our life really do effect our journey after death.
GATE is on at the Cockpit Theatre until the 24th of September and tickets can be found here.
Read my interview with playwright Artemis Fitzalan-Howard here.