Good theatre should make you think, and at times shock and surprise its audience.

Since 2007, Vertigo Productions have been doing just that time and time again.

With their final Manchester show, they have certainly managed to go out on a high.

EXAM is based on the 2009 Stuart Hazeldine film of the same name and runs for just over 85 minutes. Remember that number. It plays a vital part in the show.

8 candidates sit in an austere room, brightly lit. Very brightly lit…Once again, Karl Burge has worked a miracle with his set at the upstairs theatre of the Kings Arms in Salford.

There is only one position available. How will they cope?

The invigilator walks in, gives out the instructions, and leaves. Within moments, one candidate is hauled out by the guards.

All we know is that there is a virus out there that is cutting the population down. Some are carriers, others have it under control thanks to the breakthrough medicine provided by “The Company”.

For the next 80 minutes, you are watching on as seven people descend into what can only be described as the psychological terror that will leave just one candidate standing.

The set is wonderfully designed and lit, and although very bright at first, soon settles down as the candidates rip the room apart looking for the answer to a question that nobody so far has been asked.

As the Alpha male in the room, Candidate 2, played with menacing effect by the wonderful John Mackie, is keen to stamp his authority on the room, cajoling the others to his way of doing things, while Candidate 5, the fantastic Rebecca-Claire Evans, is the brains of the group, slowly we discover everyone’s secrets, lies and just what these people are willing to do to get the job of a lifetime.

There is violence aplenty as well as mental and physical torture going on here.

Rebecca-Claire Evans and Haydn Holden. Image copyright Shay Rowan 2019
Rebecca-Claire Evans and Haydn Holden. Image copyright Shay Rowan 2019

At times, and as you would expect with a thriller that has both a physical and psychological edge to it, the stage action slows as the tension builds between the candidates before exploding and we see pacts formed, broken and candidates leave as they break the rules set by the Invigilator, played with just the right balance of evil and unbridled power by the talented Steve Connolly.

There is not a single weak link in the cast, Watching Candidate 8, played by Andrew Marsden, as his little facial tics and movements wind up Candidate 2 is worth the ticket price alone!

The rest of the candidates are Craig Hepworth, Gavin Stamper, Nicola Fisher, Celine Constantinides and as the guard, Connor McKinney.

As time begins to run out, tempers fray, and the search for an answer to a question nobody knows comes right down to the wire.

Vertigo will be an undoubted loss to the Manchester fringe scene, although they will be bringing touring productions back from time to time.

It’s easy to see why Vertigo continues to sell-out shows, night after night after night.

The work put in by the cast and the production team really shows. This is a show that could so easily be over-egged and fall flat, but thanks to some deft direction, and some outstanding performances, the ending of the show still comes as a complete surprise when it arrives.

5*/5*

One of Autumns “must-see” shows in Manchester.

Published by @RochFolk

Folk music and fringe theatre critic and reviewer.

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