Before going into Stand By I knew a few different things. Firstly, that every audience member is given an earpiece to hear certain elements of the performance, and I love a good theatrical gimmick when performed well. Secondly, that the venue is the Edinburgh Territorial Army base, a fair walk out of the city, which seemed an exciting prospect. And thirdly, it was a police drama written by an ex-cop, which is something I’d never seen portrayed on stage before. So, on the fair walk over from Edinburgh city centre to the venue I was anticipating a balls-to-the-wall, intense, adrenalin-fuelled thriller. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Stand By follows four police officers in their attempt to control and arrest a samurai-sword wielding criminal, hiding out in a flat with a young child. Even by the short description there, it can’t help but sound like a blood-pumping thriller, but in actuality, Stand By is about the mundanity of policing, setting the entire production in the police van as they wait for hours as a negotiator tries to reason with the man. As an inside look at the boring side of policework, Stand By is the antithesis to TV police dramas, focusing on squabbles and filing rather than running and shouting. And it does it brilliantly.
Former cop Adam McNamara’s script is fantastic, sharing a surprising number of qualities with a kitchen-sink drama. Characters are established and developed, slowly revealing their intricacies, desires and frustrations over the course of the show. Numerous realistic strands of plot form and advance, sometimes interlocking and affecting one another, sometimes leading to a theatrical cul-de-sac. It’s immensely realistic in that sense, with a web of lies, frustration and allegiances overarching every interaction, even if neither party realises it. Occasionally dramatic, but often hilarious, Stand By is superbly engaging and entertaining from start to finish.
“the antithesis to TV police dramas”
The core of the performance is carried by a quartet of superb performances, with McNamara’s leading role, Chris, standing out as a superbly troubled, but expertly performed character. But, the beauty of this company is the chemistry between all four performers. Without any component to this cast, scenes would fall flat. Andy Clark’s sharp Scottish sarcasm, Jamie Marie Leary’s balanced and secretive professionalism and Laurie Scott’s egotistic arrogance combine with McNamara’s Chris to create a real motley crew. Different enough to consistently grate on each other, but similar enough to form meaningful friendships and bonds. My only slight quibble is the occasional pacing issue. Some scenes are extended and dragged out past their use-by date, and I can’t help feeling that with a bit of a pacing boost, shortening the production by ten or fifteen minutes, Stand By would become a sublime performance.
Stand By is an extraordinarily well written real-life drama displaying the mundanity and boredom which can be implicit with policework. As a snapshot into these four peoples’ lives, Stand By encapsulates humour, drama and a little bit of romance in a stunningly human production.
Army @ the Fringe in association with Summerhall, 11th – 26th August, 18:45
Image: Utter Theatre