What It Feels Like

Thu 4th – Sun 21st August 2011

reviews

Juliet Roe

at 13:48 on 17th Aug 2011

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It’s telling that I only had about four things written down from watching this play, because I was completely gripped from start to finish. Using exceptionally well choreographed physical theatre, convincing acting and a minimalist set this play had the whole audience laughing, jumping and snivelling at various points throughout the performance.

Although not a very original concept, its execution was just brilliant. Nick and Sarah are married but aren’t happy, but it is only after a serious car accident that they can address their issues in a sort of ‘inbetween’ place between life and death that is powered by Nick’s imagination. This has been done before, and parts of the play resemble scenes from films like ‘Inception’ or a really good episode of ‘Doctor Who’. The use of physical theatre that created a fully three-dimensional and intriguing onstage environment that was supported by the pitch-perfect acting by Sam Holmes and Ellen Gould, playing Nick and Sarah, and Paul Raymond and Joshua Tobias Mills playing Lester and Simpson, the couple’s guides. Using a chorus of nine actors in black balaclavas, gloves and tracksuits the environment veers from being a sanctuary to a place fraught with danger due to aspects of guilt, rage and disappointment in Nick’s mind and marriage. What was especially effective was the multiple roles given to the chorus, with them initially appearing to be invisible, essentially serving as stage hands, before subverting this role by introducing one of them as the mysterious Peter and having them become a violent threat to the protagonists. This shift was incredibly unnerving and really heightened the psychological element of the play, seeing Nick tortured onstage by aspects of his own mind was disturbing to watch.

What really made this piece great, however, was the combination of great physical theatre and really moving performances. The two complimented each other succinctly, with one drawing out the emotion of the other in a visually interesting way. The sequence detailing Sarah’s extra-marital affair portrayed the emotional motives as well as the physical attraction that facilitated it, making sure that the stylised sex scenes played a part in developing the characters and plot and were not simply gratuitous. The play required Nick and Sarah to delve into memories, with the actors expertly flicking between past and present, and despite the fact that the set consisted of little more than two doors, representing life and death, the physicality of the play meant that there was always something interesting to look at as well as the plot to follow. The well thought out soundtrack only enhanced and never eclipsed the performances of the actors and at times made it feel like watching a high budget TV drama.

A danger with shows with a supernatural or heavily psychological base is that the creation of the environment can overshadow the development of plot and characters. This was wholly avoided in this piece, Nick and Sarah felt like real people, there was no awkwardness in watching them and I genuinely cared about the state of their marriage by the end of the play. It’s moving, it’s entertaining, there is not a single weak link in the cast or chorus - and all for £8.50. Bargain.

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Rhiannon Kelly

at 13:56 on 17th Aug 2011

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‘What It Feels Like’ by Thomas Mayo, devised and performed by Encompass Productions is an intelligent, stimulating and heartfelt exploration of a mind trapped in a coma. We follow the troubled relationship of Nick and Sarah after a horrific car accident, as they are caught in the purgatory of Nick’s mind, attempting to reconcile their past and choose their future. Self-described as a “multidisciplinary drama” ‘What It Feels Like’ is a creative explosion that will delight, entertain and move.

The psychoanalytic themes of the production are undeniably cliché, but Encompass manage to depict them in an original way. We are introduced to the couple as they converse in a lift, until the dialogue starts not making sense and the stage is suddenly transformed into the surreal and unfamiliar territory of the mind. The script is subtle, and we are not aware of everything that is going on. Reminiscent of Flann O’Brien’s absurdist worlds, the floating props and dream-like characters were both comical and perplexing, leading to intrigue rather than confusion.

Visually, ‘What It Feels Like’ is stunning. The ingenious chorus, called ‘The Aspects’ are ninja-like figures dressed in black. Initially acting as slightly strange looking stage-hands, they become integral in the pit of Nick’s mind, transforming into aspects of his conscience; manipulating the world around him and representing his deeper thoughts and feelings. The choreography is exceptionally polished, and unlike many physical theatre productions that can often feel gratuitous and self-indulgent, the movement sequences and music are perfectly integrated, always heightening the message rather than superseding it. Particularly effective was the flashback to the car accident itself, which was stylised in such a remarkable way that I held my breath throughout.

What was especially outstanding from this group of young performers was their complete focus and dedication. The actors playing the main couple, Nick (Sam Holmes) and Sarah (Ellen Gould) managed to depict their relationship with a completely believable intensity as they literally confront the demons from their past. The two seamlessly flit between naturalistic dialogue and stylistic sequences, and despite watching flashbacks from various points in their relationship, they were always convincing. The two pseudo-doctors helping the couple throughout the situation were entertaining, and provided comic relief whilst pushing the plot along. However, it was unclear who/what exactly they were. We are led to believe that they are illusory figments, either of Nick or in his mind, but they also comment that they “have done this before” – the significance of this was not made clear. Their roles were entertaining, but they have the potential for even more depth.

Despite minor flaws, the sheer beauty of this production blew me away. Captivating and enlightening, it represents everything that physical theatre should be.

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