Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: SPUR, Matt Neubauer, VAULT Festival ★★★★★

Dusty, hazy, distant – the themes and narrative of SPUR twinkle in a nostalgic glaze of obscurity. Everything within is so well-pieced together, and the show has such a distinct sense of what it is and what it is setting out to do that you never for a moment feel at an arm’s length from the passion and care that has gone into crafting it. Consisting of narrative strands that bend and flex around the themes of grief, loss and sacrifice, SPUR is a far-out absurd Western that refreshes an age-old genre. Twinkling in the cosmic dust of a projector that beams across the cavernous venue, the production design is so utterly captivating, and the show hums in a tone of eternal melancholy.

The vision of writer Matt Neubauer and director James Nash is to create a fantasy Western that blends elements of old Western films, both the good elements and the shoddy, in tune with the feeling of timelessness and voidance that the desert setting provides. The piece itself could well be described as an imaginative desert, as we traverse its myriad corners we land on strange travellers with tales to tell. Monologues surrounding the lost and the passed away in actors’ native English accents are melted into a mixture of vignettes and scenes following three travellers in the old American West, superimposed against the backdrop of scenes from John Wayne movies projected against the hollow walles of the Cavern.

The central narrative following grief-stricken Rancher’s daughter Sadie, the naive young son of Ukrainian immigrants Isaac and gunslinger John sees them follow the footprints of the man who killed Sadie’s Father. But more than that, it feels the whole time as though a wave of something is following them West toward the Californian sun, a tracing of who they are and who they’ve been.

The performances are dazzling. They truly reach their dramatic peaks as each of our three performers get the chance to tell a longform monologue that piles another narrative and thematic layer on top of the piece’s already packed fantastic themology. Highlights include George Fletcher’s retelling of a romantic cyber-heist against an online MMO (Mass Multiplayer Online) Game also called ‘Spur’. It follows a scene of intense grief, yet does not feel at all out of place as the show’s narrative weaves themes of the past and future together to create an abyssal, smouldering imaginative landscape. Benjamin Victor’s love story with the spirit of his friend in the body of a dog is characteristically absurd and bleak, but brazen in its willingness to connect a world beyond with the material realities of loss. Victor comes across as having an intensely diverse dramatic range, and steals the scene each time he appears.

Maddy Strauss’ monologues concerning a character’s deceased father and a box of old Western DVDs springs at the heart of what SPUR offers – the human need to constantly rediscover and revisit the past to confirm what we know about ourselves now. The performers each drift between their Western and English characters like sand caught in the desert wind, breathing life into each section. Nash has clearly spent a very dedicated amount of time in creating the tone and narrative arc of the Western elements, and the pay off “riding into the sunset” moment at the end is rich, textured and a blissful release of the past. While the narrative is fragmented, SPUR has a sense of thematic wholeness that never escapes you. This bleeds into the fact that each monologue takes ‘spur’ to mean a different thing – a spur of rock, the spurs of a horse, a metaphorical spur forward in time.

Central to creating the atmosphere is the engrossingly elemental production design. The whole piece is played in a long corridor in between the benches in the venue, with the hazy light of a projector barrelling down on our characters, bathing them in the light of old Hollywood while evoking for all that childish cinematic glaze that comes with rewatching Old Westerns. The piece is not simply an homage to the Western genre, instead it teases out the cultural essence of that genre alongside a feeling of reflection, regeneration and isolating loss. Ben Kulvichit’s lighting design blends seamlessly into the projector, with video designs by Alberto Lais and a haunting, sublime soundscape composed by Nat Norland. There is such care to preserve certain elements of the old Western genre, and such sentimental joy in toying with others.

Lustrous, gleaming and revelling in sentimentality – SPUR is an ode to pasts we have never lived, presents filled with spirits we remember, and futures we ache to find.

Recommended Drink: SPUR is a Sarsparilla – waxy, gritty and a reminder of times gone by.

Catch SPUR until Thursday 9th March at 16:20 or 20:30 (date dependent). Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them