Review: Stand By (The Lemon Tree)
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Once the fringe is over, some shows continue to perform at smaller venues until they finally splutter out and go their separate ways. Though this means we sometimes have to settle for less choice in what we see, most of the shows that do this are some of the most successful that performed, one of which is Utter Theatre's "Stand By", which sees a group of police offers wait tensely for orders in a van. Adding to the standard people-chat-and-tension-boils-in-a-contained-space convention, the audience are also given police style ear pieces, hearing the orders and updates as the characters do on stage.
I was somewhat sceptical of this at first. In the preamble, the earpieces transmitted amusing, if slightly distracting, reports such as one of "man wearing nothing but an American football helmet". However as the show went on and the tension began to rise it was very immersive, and gave a really creative touch that perfectly communicated the anxious anticipation that the characters and real-life police officers experience.
The characters themselves also helped to create that atmosphere. All interesting, all unique, all given just the right amount of space and lines to make an impact. Adam McNamara, who writes and stars as the squad's leader Chris, injects sharp wit to make the simple conversation about the cake-bringing etiquette of the police force rather hilarious, both for the dialogue and for simply how British and ludicrous the scenario was. If one wants to find commentary on society and the police, some can be found (the opening in which they enter in slow motion to epic music, only to slump down, bored and tense), but for there is greater value to be had in just sitting back and appreciating the entertainment value, despite the relatively simple premise.
Despite that simple premise, there are a couple more plot threads than were really strictly necessary. We see two characters go rouge in the pursuit of another criminal, and a wholly predictable romance between McNamara's Chris and fellow officer Rachel, played by Jamie Marie Leary. When the strength lies in the dialogue rather than plot, some of it was unwelcome (and one must wonder whether a character that is the alpha male in the group, respected by his peers and adored by women is played by the writer by sheer coincidence.)
He does deliver a perfectly good performance, though was somewhat outshone by the rest of the cast. Having enjoyed her performance in Soho Theatre's "Expensive Shit", I was pleased to see Leary play another sassy and confident character, un-intimidated by her male colleagues. Laurie Scott plays the delightfully irritating Marty, a character who toes the line perfectly between juvenile and unlikable git, and over-enthusiastic and misunderstood newbie.
Joe Douglas' direction is, on the whole, effective, as the tension rises and sparks fly between the characters, putting across the claustrophobic , fishbowl-like atmosphere of the police van and getting you invested in the action, despite nearly all of it being off stage. Granted, the choreographed transitions added nothing and slightly interrupted the tone, convenient though they were to break up the dialogue. "Stand By" leaves you with something to think about and giggling at the best lines, enough to overcome its unwanted extras. Four stars.