EFR - Reviews of A Sky Burial

A Sky Burial

Mon 20th – Fri 24th August 2012

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 00:59 on 23rd Aug 2012

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Riots. Drugs. Sexual assault. The c-word. Gratuitous shoving of a man’s face into a bloody corpse. A meteor shower...? Most plot points in this piece of new writing reek of unwarranted controversy, ticking almost every single box of supposedly and self-consciously ‘gritty’ theatre.

Josh Harris as the protagonist James successfully maintains a tense and uncomfortable characterisation; whilst appropriate to the character, this does unfortunately mar his acting with a slightly wooden lack of conviction that never really sits right with an audience. His brooding countenance is obviously concealing some deep inner torment, but it is never made clear what exactly this corrosive secret is, leaving it entirely unfathomable why he suddenly turns out to be mad as a barrel of snakes. Helena Davies’s Henriette is earnest, funny and introduces some lighter and more human moments into the script, but she cannot extricate herself from lines like ‘do you think the Queen poos?’, and a brief but unnecessary contemplation of monarchical masturbation. Harris and Davies play the awkward clichés of a first date convincingly, and do embrace some moments of tenderness in the dinner scene, which is then thoroughly ruined by a story involving a thorny erection.

The hospital band, consisting of Leo Mates and Rowland Stirling, are an incredibly confusing addition; whilst clearly intended to represent the twisted products of a damaged society, exactly how this society is damaged and why is never made clear. Stirling is impressively committed to his role and manages to evoke some rare flickers of sympathy for his twitching, drug-addled insanity. Finally, for an actress who spends the most of the piece in a coma, Martha Loader is biting, witty and subtle, though her last line is lost in the overpowering roar of an inexplicable mob.

Despite some skill in the cast, at no point in the piece did I have any idea what was happening, or indeed, what the point of it all was. There were definitely some quite interesting ideas in there somewhere, but I would need a shovel and a flashlight to find them through the swamp of clichés and confusion. Is it an apocalypse? Is it a dystopia? No, it’s a piece of new writing that needs a great deal more work.

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Ella Griffiths

at 01:23 on 23rd Aug 2012

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‘A Sky Burial’ is a depressing example of a new play under the teenage illusion that it is a monument of philosophical complexity seething with gritty controversy. In reality, despite the bravery of the ideas and a promising young cast, it rather comes across as a mildly disturbing production filled with gratuitous violence and faux-profound intellectualising.

The alienating dramatic situation revolves around a blind date between a florist and a physicist in the hospital ward of a dystopian city on the verge of total collapse. While a tangible sense of encroaching danger is created as the couple cling together for comfort, this confusing setting evokes intense audience interest at the start that soon dissolves into indifference as the tenuous plot wears on. The excellent visual impact of the stark set slightly redeems the flaws of the production, with the opening scene consisting of an omnipresent unconscious woman in a wheelchair offering a haunting visual tableau. However, the quality of the acting shows great potential, despite being tainted by an abrasive and disagreeable script. Josh Harris as James is successfully awkward and impassioned while Helena Davies is a ditzy and sparkling Henriette, with both actors illustrating great potential matched by a repulsive and pained Rowland Stirling as Nick Paley.

Nevertheless, their strained chemistry and static reactions in a supposedly catastrophic situation dull their dramatic impact, just as the exaggerated edginess and perversity of the two men acting as Christmas telegrams make the whole production feel excessive and forced. The themes are similarly transparent, from scientific contemplation to an examination of sterility and disease, as if the playwright is signalling their “controversial” significance with a large megaphone to the audience; ticking off the subjects of rape, euthanasia, death and drugs as if from a guide on how to create an edgy modern play. It is simply not enough to enthrall the audience and encourage genuine empathy.

This is not to say that ‘A Sky Burial’ was mundane or pedestrian. It offers a fresh setting, interesting abstract ideas and a bold, exciting attempt at forging a new dystopia. By exploring the embryonic ideas in a more engaging and dynamic fashion, the play could offer a fertile artistic discussion, and, with a little more dynamic acting, eventually exist as a creative triumph.

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