EFR - Reviews of The Curing Room

The Curing Room

Wed 30th July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

David Harris

at 23:59 on 4th Aug 2014

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The Curing Room is a powerful, moving, and truly harrowing piece of drama that is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. Writing an hour and a half after leaving the venue, I still have a rather unpleasant knot in my stomach.

Seven Soviet soldiers are captured and imprisoned naked in a monastery cellar. When their captors retreat from the area, they are left there helpless, with no means of escape, desperately trying to conjure up the faintest degree of hope they can muster. It is not long before the inevitable realisation: they must resort to cannibalism in order to survive.

David Ian Lee, the writer, clearly understands that the best way to terrify an audience is to leave as much as possible to their imagination, before delivering a sudden, gruesome shock. Just before the first of the soldiers is to be eaten, the lights dim, and during the scene change we see the others literally washing themselves in blood. When the lights come back up, a week has passed, and there is a mutilated, limbless torso in the corner of the stage.

The actors deserve a lot of credit for doing justice to the brilliant but very demanding script. Thomas Holloway gives a heart-wrenching performance as the simple and innocent Private Yura “Yuri” Yegerov; his final realisation that his comrades and mother in Leningrad are not “just sleeping” is frighteningly genuine, and the flashes of humanity he nevertheless finds in his fellows is deeply moving. Harvey Robinson (Senior Lieutenant Sasha Ehrenberg) and Rupert Elmes (Captain Victor Nikolov), the senior officers trying to maintain order and dignity, are also excellent.

All of the characters are well-crafted, and whilst a few are occasionally simplistic (Junior Lieutenant Leonid Drossov, played by Will Bowden, is a little-one dimensional, despite the convincing portrayal), they all create fascinating conflicts, trying to reconcile their own needs, faults, and beliefs with those of the group. Every performance is unflinchingly honest, and by the end of the show you barely notice that the actors are naked. They enable you to see past this superbly.

Occasional flaws include the night-time lighting being a little too bright and blue, looking slightly artificial, and not giving the audience enough time to ponder profound statements – particularly the end of scenes, it seems to rush on without pause for thought. If you are after a good time, this is not the show to go to, despite considerable humour in some scenes. But if you want to see something that will entrance you, challenge every perception of humanity you have, and probably put you off meat for a while, you can’t do better.

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Lili Thomas

at 08:31 on 5th Aug 2014

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It is incredibly difficult to put into words the experience of watching The Curing Room. So much of this play’s challenge is directed at our instincts, preconceptions and gut feeling. From the very beginning it breaks down the codes which govern our society and removes any sense of pretence. The audience are removed from the bright, bustling streets of Edinburgh and swallowed within the bowels of a dark and ominous cellar. This is not a play for an afternoon of light-hearted entertainment and I cannot say that I particularly ‘enjoyed’ the show. It is undeniably, however, a feat of drama and I would highly recommend it.

As a glowing orange light infuses the stage so the seven Soviet soldiers come into view, each one as naked as the next. The playwright, David Ian Lee, asks the audience to see past this and it is remarkable how quickly that happens. The challenge is not only accepted by the actors but handled with supreme ability so that the choice never seems like a gimmick. The men are stripped back to their core and the normative routes of judging not just an individual but human nature itself are thrown into upheaval.

World War II is in its final throes above the men’s heads; yet, locked within the abdomen of Polish enemy territory, the Soviet men hold rank between each other, at least initially. David Howe’s lighting design beautifully encloses the men in cold captivity. The first discussion of cannibalism, although it is not mentioned as such, seems a jump from the previous action, although it is hardly a subject where a smooth conversational transition is possible. Joao de Sousa’s direction has invested thought into each aspect of the cell. Every actor brilliantly portrays their character’s personality, and these psychological qualities remain in each man, even as the primal needs for the body’s survival took hold.

Captain Nikolov (Rupert Elmes) stalks self-consciously about the stage, resembling an Eton boy with privilege whilst Senior-Lieutenant Sasha (Harvey Robinson) slowly opens up his life before the cellar and audience. Private Georgi (Matt Houston) and Private Yura (Thomas Holloway) make a charming pair of younger boys, and their friendship brings light and humour to the dark room. It is, however, as a collective that the cast achieve such achingly pained attention.

A need for a strong stomach increases alongside the situation’s building desperation. The Curing Room puts the meat of humanity on scales and weighs man as Soviet, as soldier and as part of a family. Although it was a delightful relief to re-enter The Pleasance’s busy entrance hall, the play masterfully exposes the possible reality which lies underneath the surface.

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