Brighton Squad take on Brighton Festival

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NWS's resident young writers, the Brighton Squad, were given given the fantastic opportunity to review shows during the Brighton Festival 2013. The Squad, a team of fifteen writers aged 13- 17, watched a range of brilliant shows, concerts and events, and then wrote up their thoughts.

The writers were given the same privileges as the press, and in return, their reviews were posted on this site, the Brighton Festival and The Argus' website.

Nicola Jeffs, Press and PR Manager for Brighton Festival, visited the squad during one of their sessions to give them a taster of what was expected from a Festival reviewer, and talked about the range of fabulous shows they were be able to see.

Following the festival, two young writers were selected to be awarded the 'Young Critics Award 2013', at an event at The Dome. Andrew Comben, CEO of Brighton Dome and Festival, presented the award to Tom Sissons and Pearl Ahern for their enthusiasm and commitment to the project. He also prasied all the young writers for their fantastic work.

The Young Critics scheme is to continue, and this year's Brighton Writer Squad are all vey excited about reviewing a range of work as part of the Brighton Festival 2014.

King Lear

Review by Inez Daltrop (15)

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The setting for the show was lovely, it was performed in a garden near a church and the weather was great (great weather means no rain!). Everybody brought blankets, lawn chairs and picnics baskets, it was all very nice and cozy. The stage was very creative, there were no set changes and all of the main props were already on the stage which made the performance more intimate. The actors would also occasionally go off the stage and walk around the audience, or act on the roof of the stage. These settings created some particularly humorous bits in the play such as when Lear jumps off the stage in his pajamas and runs away from some soldiers laughing; at this point it in the play it is obvious that Lear has gone mad.

The acting throughout King Lear was very engaging, despite the performance lasting over two hours. My eyes never wandered to the seagulls flying precariously close to the audience, the actors kept me interested on the plot the entire time. One actor who I felt was extremely engaging was Joseph Marcell, who played King Lear. He delivered his lines very loud and powerfully and never broke character. Marcell looked very familiar to me, soon after the play finished I realized that he had played Geoffrey in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I also found the Bethan Cullinane as the fool hilarious, her character was the perfect example of how a fool would need to entertain people. Her performance of Cordelia was also great, her emotion was expressed very well.

One part I found quite grotesque was the scene where Cornwall and Regan gouge out Gloucester's eyes. Cornwall rips out one of the eyes and flings it behind him; it then proceeds to bounce off a wall and roll into the audience. Then Regan digs out the other eye with the heel of her shoe and tosses it into the crowd. This, strangely, I found the highlight of the production.

Winners and Losers

Review by Pearl Ahrens (16)

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All that happened in Winners and Losers was that 2 Canadian men argued.  It was brilliant.  What they talked about, and the way they did it, brought me to the verge of tears at least once, but it was funny too.

Marcus Youssef’s and James Long’s autobiographical characters decided together whether Goldman Sachs (“***** winner”), Druids (“losers”), safety pins (“they’re safe, they’re winners”), their parents, themselves and a wide array of other things, were winners or losers.

Obviously, it was scripted, but it’s made to look like it’s not.  Because we’re in Brighton, they talked about the nudist beach, the Jamie Oliver restaurant, and that there are dream-catchers for sale in “not these close lanes [sic] but the badass lanes with the jewellery shops”.

They asked the audience to shout out something for them to discuss and someone said Michael Bublé, who is apparently a winner, but I think asking for help was a mistake.  Later, an audience member interrupted a story Long was telling about his dad having a heart attack with “Winner!  He’s a Winner!” and I don’t think she was meant to do that, although Long handled it well.

Youssef’s dad is an immigrant from Egypt to Canada, who has made a lot of money there.  Youssef is involved in a left-wing party in Vancouver and other community work around housing.  Long says Youssef does that because “[he] gets off on other people’s suffering” and that Youssef is an imposter, pretending to know what poverty’s like, but really he has no idea because however poor he gets, he’ll always have his family’s money to fall back on.

Neither of them seem particularly poor at the moment; they both said they live in “a neighbourhood of Vancouver where there are loads of families and artists and students and the house prices have shot up, I’m sure you have one in Brighton” (Hanover, no?).   Despite where they are now, Long’s and Youssef’s different backgrounds affect their class, their feelings towards each other, and what they do with their own anti-capitalist views, and by the end of the play their friendship seemed to break down.

The Kite Runner

Review by Satsang Barnett (15)

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The Kite Runner was a very enjoyable performance - it was action packed with some harsh depressing and sad scenes to some funny, feel good moments, like when father and son moved from Afghanistan to America. For these reasons I highly recommend watching Kite Runner, the play has a lot to it. It’s essentially about Amir, a boy that lived in Afghanistan in the 1970’s with his friend Hassan (played by Farshid Rokey). Everything is reasonably good until the local bully does something that will change their friendship forever….

The Kite Runner novel has become an amazing play that will keep you entertained from beginning to end. As well as having constant heavy drama and excitement there is even some light hearted moments that the whole audience seemed amused by. To add atmosphere, a Tabla player played in-between Acts, some scene setting eastern music. Certain scenes featured strange musical instruments that were spun manually. They made an eerie whistling sound, to imitate harsh winds. The costumes were simple for the majority of the cast, but effective and they were always relevant (E.g. 1980’s American Fashion to 1970’s Afghan clothing).

The play also had a sign language interpreter, which allowed even the deaf to view. This is a great feature to have since the play has a lot of dialogue, which was mostly delivered by the main character called Amir, played by Ben Turner. Throughout the play Ben Turner gave an incredible emotional performance. I also found Turner very engaging with the audience - as he recited long pieces of dialogue he brought himself to tears and made it sound believable. Another great actor in the play for me was Baba. He played a very convincing father to Amir, guiding, funny and secretly loving.

The audience went wild at the end, clapping and whooping. All the actors came out for a second bow, for an insane first class opening night performance.

Winners and Losers

Review by Tom Sissons (17)

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‘Winners and Losers’ had its European premiere at the Brighton Dome on Thursday the 23rd of May.
This thought-provoking piece of discussion-style theatre, written and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long, focused on two characters conversing on whether certain things were ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in their opinion, for example nudist beaches were dubbed ‘winners’.
This began in a humorous way, focusing on lighter and more miscellaneous topics, before developing into a way for the characters to attack each others personal lives, giving it the controversial undertone which made it such a powerful piece.
It raised issues of class, work and family history as both men tried to portray and somewhat reassure themselves that they were the superior of the two – in the words of the play, the ‘winner’.
This was done in an intelligent and complex way in which the audience could only favour one character for a moment before their flaws were revealed and the other seemed more appealing, in turn, raising the question of whether anyone can be simply classified a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’ and what makes them so.
The show was split up with a handful of activities that the two characters engaged in from a song-guessing game to a ping pong match, symbolic and a bleak warning of the conflict that would later follow between the two men.
Overall, ‘Winners and Losers’ was a brilliant piece of theatre, remaining entertaining whilst at the same time acting as food for thought, stimulating questions and broadening opinions.


Review by Inez Daltrop (15)

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I read an interview that was with Suzy Wilson, one of the Artistic Directors of the Clod Ensemble; who talked about the inspirations for ‘Zero’. She said that an observation by the French movement and theatre teacher Jacques Lecoq was that ‘everything moves’; it is the idea that everything has an inherent movement dynamic.

I found the beginning of the dance quite striking. One of the first things we see is a dancer walking across the stage grasping various walking sticks in each hand and having them draped over their body. This started the dance off, which was also then used at the end. We see dancers with expressionless faces walk onto the stage, dressed in suits and formal dresses. Live music was played at the back of the stage, with passionate vocalists and instruments such as cellos, harmonicas and trombones accompanying them. The words ‘sad, old, wary and cold’ were being repeated over and over again, which went well with the tragic theme of the dance. Each of the five acts had titles that suggested different weather conditions, which also reflected the moods of the acts.

The dancers in Zero were great; I could not take my eyes off of them. There was not one boring moment throughout the dance. At one point I could literally see droplets of sweat fly off of one dancer as he did some impressive pirouettes. Their movements were very fluid and they did not disappoint; the visuals created on the stage were extraordinary!

The Kite Runner

Review by Jasmine Render (14)

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The story follows two boys, one a well off Pashtun boy named Amir, the other a Hazara boy, Hassan, the son of the servant working for Amir’s father. They grow up together, play together, fly kites together, until the day of the kite flying competition when everything changes…

The story is a touching insight into what life was like growing up in Afghanistan before the war, and what the experience was like returning to the country afterwards.  It is a story about friendship, loyalty and acceptance. With witty humour and heartbreaking honesty, this play is one in a million.

The one fault is the actual story telling, the events that happen are all presented in a way that becomes boring very quickly. ‘This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened…’ the story they are telling is beautiful, but the way they tell it needs improving. Aside from this though, everything was flawless.

They used great techniques to capture the brilliance of the story, such as projections on huge sheets, live music, and lighting. All of which made the experience much more thrilling.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, having never read the book or seen the film. It was an amazing experience and I would advise anyone to see it.

We’re gonna die

Review by Michael Rennie (14)

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This show is a gem, a rare indie rock, theatrical aside hybrid ruby hidden amongst the riches of the Brighton Fringe festival. Despite the jangling discords of glumness that the title's vibe spreads, it helps induce many life - loving and thoughtful concepts. If life had a suggestion slip, Jean young lee would be the chief writer.

She appears on stage under the glaring spotlight with yellow jeans and trainers and faces all our expectant eyes and to be honest she begins with some pretty depressing material. She is heard saying ‘Horrible things happen all the time’ and ‘When you get old all your friends will die! And you will be a burden to the world!’, I mean I almost felt I was on a goth conversion. But as the show progressed it became clear that this was an ambitiously revealing event for Lee, as we are moved through the loneliness of her self hating Uncle, onwards to the mishaps of the school playground right up to the death of her dying father of lung cancer.

Three paragraphs in and her band Future Wife haven’t been mentioned - it almost seems an injustice. A five piece band with a whole array of strange and miscellaneous instruments and a nice compilation of harmonious voices to me is a microcosm of indie music.  With the approaching shake of the maraca Lee breaks into song and continues to include impressions, punkish extracts, euphoric head bopping and confrontational lyrics. Despite the slightly morbid theme this is a tender piece. Lee goes out of her way to prove that small non-revelatory things are essentially what keep us going. One line that really stuck out for me is from the no-nonsense condolence letter from the hard-bitten friend: ‘What makes you so special to go unscathed?’. Ultimately she says that you can’t live without hardship, but nor can anyone else. In the finale song she dances kinkily and encourages the audience to join in singing ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die someday, we’re gonna die, and it ‘it'll be okay’. To begin with it seems awkward, painful and ungainly but then it becomes more natural and really plasters a smile on your face. I think my heart grew two sizes bigger that night.

Knee Deep

Review by Leila Wade (13)

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Casus ‘knee deep’ a fusion of traditional and contemporary circus techniques performed by Emma Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay and Natano Fa’anana. This was a truly mesmerising show, which thrilled and completely captivated the audience in a world of twists and turns. A gripping sensation rippled through the auditorium while those watching clung to the edge of their seats, engrossed in the creativeness and team work that flowed throughout the whole performance.

The opening scene was an interesting contrast from balancing on eggs to an unravelling scene of acrobatics. Throughout the whole show, move after move, step after step, roll after roll the audience were transfixed to the fluidity and breathtaking scenes that were taking place.

The finale was a great success which proceeded with an array of strengths and balances making the show a thrill to watch. The performance grabbed the audience from beginning to end, weaving us through an extra-ordinary life of patterns. I would definitely highly recommend this act as it was performed to the extreme!

What makes a book worth publishing?

Review by Tom Sissons (17)

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‘What Makes A Book Worth Publishing’, a …. Panel discussion took place at the Brighton Dome on Wednesday the 15th May.

It was the first of three sessions organised by Brighton publishers, Myriad Editions, to latter two taking place later in the night.

The event kicked off with a brief Q&A from the audience, answered in depth by industry experts crime novelist, Elizabeth Haynes, literary agent Kate Shaw, writer and creative writing tutor, Greg Mosse, literary reviewer Pam McIlroy and publisher Candida Lacey.

Following this, the panel engaged in …. Discussion on the central theme of the night, exploring what the literary industry looks for in new writers and, in turn, what makes a book worth publishing.
In response to this, Greg Mosse stated that for a book to appeal to an agent, publisher or reader it “must be worth writing for you, as an author. The rest will follow.”

As an aspiring writer, I found the pointers given within the discussion helpful and somewhat inspiring, giving an insight into how to approach the literature industry with success.
Following this, the panel reviewed the work of five shortlisted authors from the fourth annual fiction competition recently held by Myriad Editions and announced its winner.

If I was to criticise the night in any way, it would be that the event could have benefitted from less time focusing on the book reviews and more time dedicated to answering the title questions of ‘What Makes A Book Worth Publishing’ in a general way.

Overall, I left the event with a greater understanding of what the industry looks for in new pieces of literature. I’m sure the other two Myriad events that followed it lived up to the same standard.

The Bear

Review by Pearl Ahrens (16)

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The Bear is a series of very short – only a few minutes each – scenes that together form the twisty story of a portion of Angela Clerkin’s life.  There were only 3 people on stage when I went to see it: Clerkin (who plays herself), Guy Dartnell (who plays every character that’s not Clerkin - there are at least 9 of them) and the B.S.L. interpreter.

Each scene picks up one or more themes which run through the play and knits them into the fabric of the story.  The play deals with Northern Ireland/Christianity/soldiers/P.T.S.D./violence/anger/mental health, and bearskins/people being bears/people being attacked by bears/bears in general, but also manages to fit in mentions of winning, losing and Clerkin’s lesbianism, all in a dark, noirish modern-day London.

Most of the way through the bear is referred to as if it’s a real bear. Clerkin cites the last recorded sighting of a bear loose in London as 1980 (I checked her source ; it seems kosher) and at least 3 of the characters have ‘seen’ it.  But about ¾ of the way in, she sings a song about fighting (“Walk away!”), her aunt dies (“We sat together, me and the fur coat, watching her”) and she meets the bear in her flat.  They fight (“It was exhilarating!”), then live together amicably for a few days, then she goes back to work.  The unreality of these events makes the bear metaphor clearer, almost obvious, and ties up most of the ends neatly.

Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to be laughing or not.  I didn’t know whether the jokes were falling flat or whether they weren’t jokes at all, which made me uncomfortable.  Clerkin shoe-horns in some Irish dancing, and at one point, Dartnell (at the time it’s unclear who he’s playing) snarls a bizarre song detailing 5 gory ursine attacks which are intercut with a chorus in which he denies any part in them.  When one of the lines (“I’m an angel”) is repeated later on by Attwood, it becomes clear that Dartnell was being Attwood being a bear.  This often happens: a phrase is repeated in another scene by a different character.  It’s wonderfully confusing.

I could say that The Bear is a play about people in fragile mental states after The Troubles, but equally, it’s about bears.

Bullet Catch - More than just a magic show

Review by Leo Rogers (13)

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“But I can't help thinking; would things have turned out differently if I had picked save?”

I'm gonna start off by saying this was a lot more than just a magic show. It was intertwined with short chunks of a story, which made the whole experience much more enthralling.

The story was about a magician who fails to perform the bullet catch and is shot dead by a volunteer in front of a live audience. This story was told in the form of letters from the poor volunteer/killer to his wife, and a short scene acted out by Mr Wonder and his volunteer, displaying the events of the ensuing court case. You may be confused at some points due to the spontaneous jumping back into the story, so try to keep up.

He also made the volunteer pick a book from a pile, find a word, and memorise it. He then guessed the word, which was pretty awesome. He also asked her to think of a memory, and a person involved in that memory, whose name he then guessed. Well, nearly. It was an unusual name, so it was only to be expected that he couldn't guess exactly.

It was a good show, but there were a few small flaws - the tricks were good, but not exactly mind blowing, and there was a loose end involving a part when he had asked the volunteer to pick out a personal item to represent a weapon; that didn't really go anywhere.

In conclusion, Bullet Catch was an outstanding magic show, but you'll enjoy it if you like stories just a little bit more than magic tricks.


Review by Seamus Waters (14)

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“Ikea the Musical”, is how I would describe this event.

When I arrived in the town of Flathampton, my ears met with a wall of voices trying to speak over one another and booming music drowning out all of the dwindling hope of hearing the voices of the townsfolk. This was probably the only tangible problem with this activity but this one fairly small fault set me in a bad mood for the rest of the event.

The children mostly seemed bemused to begin with but as soon the interactivity started they leapt into action, slotting together the flat pack world. The inhabitants seemed to have a fear of anything 3D, some seemed to be on the verge of a mental breakdown.

But as the flat pack world started to form, the shops opened and each had individual activities. Slightly ironically, one building housed the Flathampton Daily News and some of the inhabitants thought I was involved with this and asked me to “write that down”, which luckily for them I was.

This post apocalyptic Sweden was parent *****. It absorbed all the joy from the rest of my Saturday, but if you are a good parent (which I’m sure you are) your children (2-10) will definitely enjoy this DIY village.

Steve Richards: Rock and Roll Politics

Review by Amelia Forest (17)

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Independent columnist Steve Richards brought his show, Rock and Roll Politics, to the Brighton Festival this Sunday. The show itself being a mix of personal anecdotes of Steve's various encounters with politicians during his time as a journalist and political analysis of the current situation the British political stage found itself. Steve managed to deliver politics in a comedic, interesting and most importantly digestible manner that kept you engaged throughout.

Steve managed this while simultaneously taking an interesting stance he titled “pro-politics”. Rather than doing the obvious and spending the evening highlighting the many mistakes, u-turns and errors our politicians have made in recent decades like the majority of political comedians, Steve, instead chose to humanise and attempt to analyse the thought processes of the likes of Cameron, Nick and Ed. A risky strategy, in the current climate of hate, but one that remarkably works. Not only was Steve interesting and insightful, he managed to be very funny and quick witted without taking the obvious route. My only criticism would be that some more politically specific references may have alienated some audience members. Steve’s Q & A with the audience also went down a treat - Steve both thoughtfully and concisely answering all questions posed, without falling into the trap of drifting off topic and leaving the audience feeling like they didn't really get an answer. It's just a shame time restraints meant not everyone's questions could be answered. All in all the show was excellent and I only hope Steve returns to give us more of his political insight next year.

The Bear

Review by Seamus Waters (14)

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As the lights dim I see the bear obscured in a perspex cube which is the focus of the stage. This film noir based performance was surprisingly deep and enthralling, the story of a solicitor’s clerk Angela Clerkin who is immersed in a murder case. When she believes the case is all drawing to a close, the defendant tells her that “The bear did it!”.

There are only five elements - the two actors,the lights, the sound, props and the open faced perspex cube. The cube would rotate to become a prison cell, Angela’s North London flat and even a Union Jack Club. 

As soon as the lights come back up, the actors introduce themselves and what characters they will be playing. As the performance goes on, it switches between an almost spoken word event, to being a gritty crime fiction film. The way the actors break the fourth wall doesn’t detract from the play in the slightest. In fact it adds to the play, as the anecdotes increase the suspense almost tenfold! The atmosphere is dark, the subject matter heavy but conversely the play is littered with humour.

The way the story is written and how open the performers are, makes the experience much more realistic and deep. The two actors are simply superb and I believe fitted their roles perfectly. The only qualm I had with the performance was the authenticity of Guy Dartnell’s Irish accent - a petty comment - but excluding this minor detail, this theatrical experience was perfect in every way. Definitely worth the £10 ticket price!

Review by Tom Sissons, 17.

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‘Under The Cranes’, a cinematic illustration of the history of Hackney went on show on Sunday 12 May.

The event was split into two parts, the first centring on the screening of Emma-Louise Williams’ powerful film of the same title, which explored the world of the East London borough, from the council built maisonettes to the people who lived in them, based on Michael Rosen’s ‘Hackney Streets’, a self proclaimed ‘play of voices’.

The film beautifully weaved together a montage of both new and old footage, accompanied by a variety of narration, which ranged from personal recollections of war-time stories to traditional rhymes; patriotic pub choruses to a poem representing the ethnic minorities of Ghana.

What struck me most were the light-hearted songs of childhood echoing around the bleak images of derelict buildings, high-rise estates and post-Blitz streets. It gave somewhat of a sense of beauty to the most of ugly of situations.

The one criticism I could give is that the film was very much static and although it was meant as an aesthetic piece it could have benefitted from a more definite beginning and end to give the audience a structure to follow.

The screening was followed by a Q&A and a panel discussion including Michael Rosen, Emma Louise-Williams and author, Leo Hollis.

This focused on opinions on the history, regeneration and meditation of urban areas and evoked the question: ‘How can a city be for all of us?’

Overall, ‘Under The Cranes’ in the words of Williams’ film not only brought the world to Hackney, but brought Hackney to the world.

By Jasmine Render, 15

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Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by other audience members as a single man sits in a corner taking you on a journey. Everyone experiences something different and you are in control.

The year is 2056 and a great flood has devastated our world, with only one remaining city left. A city built by the rich for the rich where you have to earn even the basic human rights. A place where even dreaming is outlawed. This story is about a man named Jack Richards, a man bored with life, a dreamer in a dreamless world. Making a shocking discovery about his past, Jack embarks on a journey to make life better for everyone.

Overall the performance was amazing. Daniel Marcus Clark (the live storyteller, director and writer of the show) had an almost hypnotic quality to his voice, transporting you to another place in another time. There was nothing visual as you were wearing a blindfold, but the images your imagination came up with were probably more enticing than any film. Although sometimes the darkness was overwhelming and quite often you couldn’t tell whether you had your eyes open or closed. This is only a minor point but it is distracting. Aside from this there isn’t anything I can fault it on.

There were small key things that made To Dream, To Sleep so amazing, such as in the dream sequences they called the dreamer ‘you’, so that individuals could see whatever they wanted. Daniel Marcus Clark never spoke for too long, knowing when it was better to just listen to the sounds. The sound is what makes the show come alive, with insects flying above you and waves crashing all around you. It is what makes the experience feel real.

To see other people’s experiences or to share your own visit:

Review by Rhys Lamberth, 16

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An infinitely complicated journey of emotions and thoughts.

I went and saw The Disappearances Project and found that it was a very moving and thought provoking performance. The idea behind it is to show people that when a person goes missing, no matter how you knew them, the whole family and the people around them are all affected too. Also if they are missing for a long time, say over a period of several years, it shows the way things and ordinary people can deteriorate. I especially liked how the play made the audience feel sympathy and how they could use the simplest of things to show an infinitely complicated journey of emotions and thoughts.

An amazing moment in the play was when they were talking about how the privacy rules work. This was a particularly interesting moment because it tells you how the privacy laws get in the way of the families getting any information and how that can be one of the most stressful things to deal with when all they want is to know is that the person in question is alive and well. There were only a few things I thought that could have been done better and one of those is that I think that Yana Taylor sounded a bit robotic when she was talking and that the play might have flowed a bit better if she sounded a bit more natural. It was a fantastic play and I would recommend it to anybody and everybody who enjoys a mystery.