Pros: Physical theatre at its finest
Cons: The run lasts just two nights
In case you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed that mental health is finally being treated with the seriousness and attention it has long deserved, with suicide being one of its most extreme forms. Suicide, often brushed under the carpet in both private and public life, forms the creative inspiration for Ephemeral Ensemble’s The Actualisation Show – a production constructed using interviews held with those affected by suicide. Suicide charities Papyrus and Life After Suicide (L.A.S.) are named as collaborators on the project. When my co-reviewer and I read the blurb on the hand-out, in all honesty we expected the worst. Surely this theatre start-up wouldn’t be able to handle subject matter of this magnitude without a level of heavy-handedness? We were wrong.
The international physical theatre company brought its playful stage craft to Camberwell’s grassroots (and very pleasant) theatre, The Blue Elephant for a brief three-day run. A perfect setting for a theatre company seemingly on the up. Over the course of a short, sharp hour, the company squashed quite a bit in – there was laughter, tension, misery, hope and creativity in equal measure. The action was played out by a cast of two, both young men. With sparse dialogue, the narrative focused on the characters’ life both onstage and behind the curtain. It wasn’t clear if they were two separate characters, or two different sides of the same person. Whichever it was (if either), the concept was beautiful in its ambiguity.
Set design was perfect. The proscenium arch was set on rollers and rotated to allow the audience to peek at the misery behind the forced smile. The curtain took many forms during the action: a curtain, a prop, a mask, a veil, a window to the soul; the stage within a stage was accompanied by a third (very meta) smaller stage – a versatile prop that allowed the characters to explore some of the show’s more obscure themes. Setting was superbly detailed – even the tin mug (which made the perfect noise when the whisky bottle clinked against it) matched the drapes.
Music was incredible – to this reviewer it sounded like a Latin-influenced cinematic soundtrack, laden with dread. It was particularly effective in what was my favourite scene, one in which the curtain, flooded with red light, creeped eerily towards the audience. The hairs on the back of my neck, all the way down my spine and along my arms stood straight up. If I was a cat I would have puffed up into a big fluffy ball.
Pacing and timing went well beyond theatre companies at this level. The hour-long performance was neatly trimmed, with no fluff – it whistled by. The energy and silliness that shone at the beginning was welcomed by the audience at the end of the production, bookending the piece. The fact that the pair were able to create so much drama simply with facial expressions and a few lines of dialogue was testament to the skill of the cast and crew.
The tension built using just the actors’ movement had a resounding effect on the audience – the shuffling amongst onlookers after particularly tense moments reassured the sense that this was definitely not ‘just another play’. The highs were atmospheric, the lows lay heavy in the pit of your stomach. Some of the choreography could have done
with a bit more polish, but it was opening night.
After the show we were encouraged to give written feedback on forms that had been shared about. Nobody spoke and everyone scribbled furiously, so it must have been good. This is what theatre at this level is all about – if you ever get the chance, go and see it.
Directors: Egló Belafonte & Ramon Ayres
Music & Sound: Alex Paton
Lighting design: Josephine Tremelling
Booking until: This show has now completed its run.