The Times

Wednesday 11 September 1996

Wall St blues

Bartleby, Pleasance, King's Cross

Melville's novella Bartleby tells of a mild-mannered young man who obtains a position in a respectable Wall Street Law Office, where he works with sober efficiency until, one day, he finds he can do so no longer. When his employer, Mr Standard, asks the reason, all he will answer is: "I would prefer not to."
He sits at his desk; he stands staring out of the window; he does nothing. The other clerks are variously outraged but months pass before Standard, a man of compassion, can bring himself to dismiss the man. When Bartleby won't leave the premises Standard is obliged to move his firm elsewhere. Bartleby is conveyed to prison where, courteous to the end, he perishes.
We are left to assume that he became paralysed with horror at the endless dreary life of a copy-clerk, trapped in a street of walls. His polite expression of revolt disconcerts a system that requires unquestioning subservience, and in Jonathan Holloway's production for Red Shift, Simon Startin with his strangely unfocused gaze upon his anxious employer (Edward Halsted, excellent), he conveys passive desperation to a quite astonishing degree.
The entire production was one of the strongest offerings at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, and Larry Lane's adaptation preserves the artful delicacy in Melville's storytelling. Recommended.



The Independent

21 August 1996


After a three-year break from the Festival, Red Shift returns with a beautifully designed adaptation of Herman Melville's novella. Dealing as it does with the inexplicable decline of a 19th century scrivener, Barlteby is not an obvious text to stage, but this exacting production translated the uncanny flavour of Melville's story into an entertaining and provoking drama. Set in a Wall Street legal practice, the play paints a satirical cartoon of three copyists, scribbling their lives away under their benevolent boss, Standard. Their hectic, repetitive world is disrupted by the arrival of Bartleby, who gorges himself on work before wasting away with the refrain: "I would prefer not to."
Simply choreographed and tightly paced, Red Shift's production builds from comedy to unease as Bartleby's meek insubordination spreads from business to the most basic of social contracts (speaking, moving, eating). With his shoulders hunched around his ears, Simon Startin gives a wonderfully spare performance as the unobtrusive anti-hero, whose tragic abnegation of life finally raises questions about the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and the limits of the liberal conscience.

Liese Spencer










The Scotsman

17 August 1996

* * * *
Red Shift, Theatre Workshop

Who is Bartleby, this silent, unsettling presence? Oppressed Everyman, a cipher for all the underdogs who ever walked the cruel streets? Lost soul adrift in unreachable lunacy? The very Devil himself? Each possibility lurks in Red Shift's brooding and brilliantly compressed fable, drawn from Herman Melville's eponymous tale.
Red Shift's elegant expressionistic adaptations were once regular highlights of the Fringe. They return here with new energy, a new embrace of moral complexity and minimalist excellence and intensity of staging: 19th century New York is unfussily and economically created here.
Bartleby is a scrivener, a copyist who comes to work in a Wall Street office, then descends into silence, strange refusals, and eventual destitution. He weighs on the conscience, he weighs upon sanity, he weighs in the balance the stuff of our humanity.
Disciplined as ever under Jonathan Holloway's direction, the small troupe offers bright tight vigour and plenty of entertaining period detail. Simon Startin, hunched and other-worldly, is the still centre. He lends a quasi-autistic air to Bartleby, locked in his world, beyond bustling reach. This is an important story, immaculately done. It is not yet selling out. It should, and it will.

Catherine Lockerbie