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America Is Hard To See, Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly) – review

“Audiences should walk out saying I don’t know how to feel.” It’s a line from early on in America Is Hard To See that perfectly sums up mine, and likely most of the packed audiences feelings as we filtered out into the evening rain. Because it’s difficult to decide how to feel having just witnessed an incredible and emotionally fuelled show about sex offenders, and the way we view and treat them. The show is made up entirely from interviews from residents of Miracle Village, the local community where released offenders are forced to serve the remainder of the…

Summary

Rating

Unmissable

A verbatim piece of theatre, the subject matter is bleak, but everything else about the show is not. Simply stunning theatre.

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“Audiences should walk out saying I don’t know how to feel.” It’s a line from early on in America Is Hard To See that perfectly sums up mine, and likely most of the packed audiences feelings as we filtered out into the evening rain. Because it’s difficult to decide how to feel having just witnessed an incredible and emotionally fuelled show about sex offenders, and the way we view and treat them.

The show is made up entirely from interviews from residents of Miracle Village, the local community where released offenders are forced to serve the remainder of the time under strict controls. This verbatim approach brings the offenders to life right in front of our eyes, as we are forced to hear of their crimes, the details at time leaving a cold shiver down the spine. But America Is Hard To See isn’t a piece about the crimes, it is about the human element. It makes us see those offenders as people, just people who have committed crimes that mean, rightly or wrongly, they will be stigmatised for the rest of their lives. It makes us question our ability to forgive, to allow these people a second chance.

Even though every word spoken is taken from real transcripts, it is not at all stilted. In fact the perfect flow is testament to playwright Travis Russ, who must have slaved over hundreds of hours of taped interviews to piece together this 75 minute show. It’s then further interjected with moments of beuatiful song, where composer Priscilla Holbrook turns our sex offenders into a band or a choir, making them even more human. Music is a strong theme, demonstrating its power to bind us together, a common thread however different we may be in every other way.

America Is Hard To See is an emotional ride. Come the end there are more than a few tears shed. Whether they are shed for the offenders, their victims or simply because the play reveals so much about our own attitudes, it’s not easy to tell. And herein lies the confusion, their crimes are terrible, there are moments when you question if some of them really believe they did wrong, if they don’t blame others, and yet by presenting them in this manner, showing that they are flawed but still human, it leaves you questioning your opinion towards them. Or in some cases, praying that they will be allowed to lead a normal life once they leave the village. Put simply, come the end, I really was not sure how I was meant to feel.

Written and directed by: Travis Russ
Composer and lyrics by: Priscilla Holbrook
Dramaturg by: Anthony Dvarskas
Produced by: Life Jacket Theatre Co
Booking link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/america-is-hard-to-see
Playing until: 25 August 2019

About Rob Warren

Someone once described Rob as "the left leaning arm of Everything Theatre" and it's a description he proudly accepted. It is also a description that explains many of his play choices, as he is most likely to be found at plays that try to say something about society. Willing though to give most things a watch, with the exception of anything immersive - he prefers to sit quietly at the back watching than taking part!
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