Whilst we wait for the show to begin, the light-drenched tranquillity of The Mill Art Gallery is suddenly disrupted by the incursion of an armed squad. Head to toe in black, they shout and curse, ordering us to form a line along the wall. Then they call us forward, one at the time, to complete the registration. I have to repeat to myself that this is just a performance; my heart is pounding and my voice breaks when I try to answer their questions.
We’re then taken to a black-box space nearby, with seats aligned along two walls. The stretched performing area in the centre has just an empty chair at one end, and a film tripod-mounted camera at the other.
A man covered in dirt and bruises is pushed in by the guards, whilst a smartly dressed young woman in black takes her place behind the camera. She witnesses placidly the abuse perpetrated on the prisoner, before taking his picture. Her name is May (Gabriella Munro) and she’s been enrolled by the regime at a young age, after passing the most gruesome initiation trial. Trained as a photographer, she is now in charge of maintaining a visual record of all the inmates.
The parade of dissidents continues in quick succession, each of them presenting a greater challenge for May’s desensitised feelings. Unexpectedly, we see her courage falter, whilst her assistant June (Lauren Beeton) unflinchingly disposes of the prisoners who refuse to conform.
Whilst some of the episodes are just a tad too long, with meandering dialogues that compromise their sense of purpose, interludes of music and movement give the brutality of the events a chance to sink in. Expectations for a turning point increase with every scene, but when this finally arrives, it comes as less of a surprise.
Searing performances from the eight-strong cast are the true highlight of this drama inspired by the events of the Security Prison 21 (S-21) in Cambodia – a former secondary school which became theatre of the Tuol Sleng Genocide in the 1970s.
After 90 minutes, the end comes much more gently than the beginning did. As the ensemble take their bows and the thick crimson floodlights are replaced by much more neutral shades, a question is left unanswered for the audience to ponder – what is an individual prepared to do for survival?
Written by: Sarah Grochala
Directed and Movement Coaching by: Teresa Izzard
Original Music by: Rachael Dease
Produced by: Feet First Collective
Booking Information: This show has completed its current run.