The Anima Project

Sun 3rd – Sat 9th August 2014

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 10:05 on 4th Aug 2014

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The Anima Project is the latest innovation in therapy in a world where humans, supposedly genetically predisposed to commit certain crimes, are immersed into a simulated reality. With medical professionals carefully controlling their environment, the patients are pushed towards their ‘decision stage’ when they will choose whether to commit the crime for which they have already been imprisoned.

This is explained to you before you enter the performance space by a gruff doctor. One feels patronised by his arrogant address, impressed by his technical vocabulary, intimidated by the unnatural whiteness of his coat – utterly convinced in fact. As an audience member you represent a potential investor in the Anima Project; the doctor and nurse act as your guides through the performance which takes place across three rooms.

It is an interesting concept, and the promenade setup has great potential. The actors and audience share the same space, and so both must share the same world. The world of the Anima Project is created with such commitment that for one hour it becomes reality.

Wrong Shoes Theatre does sinister very well, with its combination of black comedy and horror. The unexpected injection of a cabaret number into the piece adds to the Truman Show-esque sense of surveillance, reminding the audience that the life of the patients is a sinister artifice.

The acting in the show is of a higher quality than the star rating would suggest. ‘The Anima Project’ is full of four and five star performances. It is a pity that these are lost in the complexity of the staging. I appreciate the ambitiousness with which Wrong Shoes Theatre has decided to leave the audience free to choose which scene to observe at any one time. The problem is that the audience is large, and so moving between rooms can be uncomfortable.

While the use of sound effectively induces a nightmarish reality, the dialogue becomes lost in the music. These factors led me to feel that I was missing great chunks of what I was confident was a good story; as though I had been asked to choose twelve chapters to read of a twenty chapter book.

‘The Anima Project’ is a fascinating look at the struggle with social identity and individual worth when an innocent conscience has already been branded a murderer, a liar, a pervert, a coward. The idea is very clever and the acting is impressive, but the production could do with some revision in order to ensure that the audience can explore the four patients’ journeys as freely as possible.

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Lucy Diver

at 10:57 on 4th Aug 2014

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If the alarm goes off, stand still. If someone tells you to do something, do it. Do not evacuate. Welcome to the Anima Project.

Until today, I was a newbie to promenade theatre - where the actors and audience mingle in a space, rather than a traditional stage vs. seats set-up. It certainly makes for a more immersive experience – and in this case, a harrowing one. All conversations in the queue to go in are cut off when a doctor and nurse suddenly appear, and take us into three rooms. An hour later, I emerge with mascara all over my face.

We are the supposed investors and press members here to see a live clinical trial, where a doctor and nurse attempt to cure Patients A, B, C and D of various ‘undesirable genetic traits’. In this 5-minutes-into-the-future scenario, these individuals would otherwise be executed for their propensity for deserting the army, murder, so-called sexual perversion and ‘lies’ which look more like schizophrenia.

There’s a lot going on in The Anima Project, and my preconception of promenade theatre was that it necessitated ‘missing’ elements going on in other rooms. Part of the genius of Wrong Shoes Theatre is in the way they use their lights, and excellent music of all kinds (sung, lip-synched, played and remixed) to direct and guide the audience’s attention to the most pertinent bits of the show.

Not that our attention is wandering – the acting is top-notch across the range. Josh Foyster’s voice was terrifying, Tristan O’Neill performs a brutal rape scene, Harriet Dearing in white gave a dance that looked more like a panic attack or manic episode, Hannah Baker is perhaps the most ‘sane’ and therefore the most terrifying. Luke Marques as the doctor is just the right mix of mad scientist and well-meaning researcher. Vicki Price’s nurse is perhaps the least unnerving character, but she’ll still make your flesh creep.

But the star in The Anima Project has to be the writing: a tricky, unnerving subject, flawlessly executed. It’s a play I’ll be thinking about for a long time, and it’s certainly one to give you nightmares. The doctor and nurses claim they have to push their patients to the extremes of experience for them to be cured, but the real subjects are the audience. This show will certainly push you – it pushed me too far, perhaps. It’s excellent theatre, and selling fast, but you’ve been warned: it is extraordinarily disturbing.

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