Pros: Powerful acting and thought-provoking content. An atmospheric and memorable production.
Cons: The unusual seating arrangement was slightly distracting.
Entering the Park90 auditorium at Park Theatre, the first thing I saw was the set. This was an impressive re-creation of a pool locker room, standing between two banks of audience seating. The front row was very close to the action and I was directed through the set to reach my seat. After this intriguing start, I was curious to see how the performance would unfold…
Archimedes’ Principle follows three swimming pool staff who run lessons for local children. During the period between morning and afternoon sessions, Anna (Kathryn Worth) and Matt (Matt Bradley-Robinson) try to resolve a complaint made against instructor Brandon (Lee Knight) of inappropriate behaviour towards a child in his class. Their anxiety is heightened by a threatening visit from David (Julian Sims), a parent who has discovered the accusation via Facebook. As a tense situation begins to spiral, slivers of information are revealed through a series of locker room conversations.
Interestingly, the narrative is non-linear, often showing us a section of conversation before jumping back to reveal the build-up to that moment. These ‘time jumps’ provide a deeper understanding of the characters’ predicament and are cleverly tied together by overlapping sections of dialogue. Detailed direction of physical gestures and timings make these ‘overlaps’ convincing as a single moment, viewed twice. Each scene is introduced by a dramatic moment of pitch black, coupled with the sounds of a swimming pool. These effectively divide the story and for me, built an increasing sense of unease which was mirrored on set.
The play’s unusual structure is reliant on a consistent delivery from the cast and they certainly don’t disappoint. Each character has incredible depth, showing multiple angles to their personalities between scenes. Knight’s emotional breadth is particularly impressive, taking Brandon from laddish and cocky to frightened and vulnerable. Combined with skilled writing and direction, the character is kept on a knife edge between trustworthy and questionable, leaving the audience guessing to the end.
Director Marta Noguera-Cuevas makes a bold choice in seating the audience along both sides of the performance space. At times, characters speak with their backs to us, which can be frowned upon in more traditional plays. In the context of Archimedes’ Principle however, it actually enhances the realism. The dialogue is unfalteringly clear and the positioning of characters feels natural, rather than orchestrated for an audience.
As a whole, the play raises questions around trust, relationships and how our personal circumstances can shape our perceptions. Fear fuelled by social media positions the story firmly in today’s world, challenging us to consider our own perspectives on the issues raised.
This is a very intense production, with high levels of emotion contained in a relatively small space. Whilst this may leave some theatre-goers feeling uncomfortable, I felt the intensity was appropriate for the subject matter and any discomfort was purely down to my investment in the characters. The only thing which occasionally broke my focus was the positioning of the audience. I found that a backdrop of faces sometimes prevented me from fully immersing myself in the world of the play. In all other respects, I felt as though I was looking through a window into a private room and I think this would have been strengthened by lower lighting over the audience.
With a challenging subject and narrative structure, Archimedes’ Principle delivers a powerful, immersive theatre experience. The high quality of writing, acting and direction are supported by slick, creative scene transitions. I was itching to discuss it with anyone who would listen after I left. For those who enjoy thought provoking theatre, this is a must see.
Author: Josep Maria Miró i Coromina
Translated by: Dustin Langan
Director: Marta Noguera-Cuevas
Producer: Fox Trotter Theatre
Booking Until: 11th May 2014
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: http://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/archimedes-principle
Please note that this performance contains moments of full male nudity.