After directing in a previous season, Titas Halder returns to The Other Room with his debut as a writer. Fresh from a successful run at Theatre503, Escape the Scaffold comes to Cardiff to complete what has so far been a superb Outliers season. The dynamic between three best friends is what drives the narrative in the play. Reuniting in the house they shared as university students, their friendships, romances and differences are rekindled in this nightmarish dystopia. All the while, one of them is being hunted, and at least one of them can’t be trusted.
Halder has done a fine job in his first playwriting venture. His grasp of dialogue is sublime – the play is billed as a thriller, and there is certainly enough violence and suspense to warrant that, but the real thrill is in the conversations Halder has crafted. At times, these scenes do go on too long, sometimes with what is arguably filler, but there’s no doubting how fun they are to watch.
Credit for that also needs to go to director and cast. Rosie Sheehy (Grace), Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge (Aaron) and Charles Reston (Marcus) have great stage chemistry and the audience believes in the characters’ friendship. As the narrative twists and turns and the story flits back and forth in time, that sense of familiarity is never lost. Director Hannah Price punctuates that with the movement in these scenes – everything feels spontaneous and unpredictable, not choreographed.
Inevitably an intricate plot like this is going to have holes and, unfortunately, Escape the Scaffold’s holes are easily spotted. Halder is quick to establish the rules of this alternate world but breaks them in the final third, creating confusion over what has come before. But like a good cinematic thriller, plotholes are masked by style and pizzazz and, here, it comes in the form of an electric score from Chris Bartholomew. The frenetic sound design enhances the suspense, while deliberately erratic lighting design from Katy Morison brings unease to what we perceive to be a reality.
Once again The Other Room presents a production of the highest technical quality, matching the brilliance of the two plays before it. While this script may not match up to Sinners Club and Seanmhair, Halder shows tremendous promise as a playwright. His ear for voice and character is what stands out in Escape the Scaffold, and why it’s a fitting end to another excellent season.