GATE is a charming new creation from writer, Artemis Fitzalan Howard (co-founder of Deadpan Theatre), about the extraordinary encounter of five individuals – four of whom are recently deceased.

The story explores a combination of light-hearted and more thought-provoking themes about death. This includes behavioural criteria for passing through the pearly gates, posthumous social media reactions and of course, the idea that even in a reality as transcendental as the after-life, there will be plenty of tedious paperwork and unavoidable ‘away day’-esque team-building activities.

Our characters quickly learn they have arrived at Wapping, East London’s ‘Gate’ - a local purgatory of sorts, manifesting in the form of a low-key waiting room. The new arrivals Mark (Wil Coban), Rebecca (Eleanor Henderson), Luke (Joe McArdle) and Esther (Katie Sherrard) clash, criticise, comfort and connect as the story progresses. The fifth character, and arguably the most intriguing is Eve (Emma Dennis-Edwards), the perpetually sassy and side-tracked, but well-meaning, Guardian of Wapping Gate.

Although the staging used (theatre-in–the-round) can generally pose challenges in terms of positioning and projection, I think it worked successfully in this piece. The floor-level stage felt appropriate for this particular narrative and the way in which the characters moved around the audience-enclosed space – often pacing or stepping away from difficult conversation - added to the feeling of helplessness and confinement posed by their perplexing new state of being.

Attempts are made by the characters to determine possible reasons for why they have arrived at the Gate instead of heading ‘straight upstairs’. I think this discussion was limited and left me wanting more detail. It was unclear whether or not this effect was intentional and it felt as though we were regularly at the point at which each character was going to explain a little more about their lives – but to the audience’s frustration, it never came.

Breaking up the fast-paced, comedy-laced dialogue was a celestial chorus of four. Whilst they sang beautifully, I felt that during this relatively short play (75-minutes) in some inceidences our time spent with them may have been better spent focused on our protagonists’ lives (and deaths!)

Although the story of each of the characters could have been more effectively explored, each of the actors gave an impressive and engaging performance. The dialogue was witty and sprinkled with sarcasm, with regular laugh-out-loud moments, although the odd occurrence of more serious subject matter did not feel forced. Overall, GATE made for an interesting and enjoyable experience, however, in lacking a deeper exploration of the characters, the story felt cut off before it reached a satisfying conclusion.
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