The Laramie Project

Mon 19th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 09:43 on 20th Aug 2013

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‘The Laramie Project’ offers the kind of creative and ambitious approach to a thought-provoking script that one would expect from a group of theatre arts students. A well-paced, dynamic chronicle of one city’s difficult journey through tragedy and towards justice, the play finds a special energy through the effective use of song, physical theatre, and a sensitive and engaging cast.

The production was largely composed of a series of monologues, and a few performances in particular were instrumental in evoking the kind of heartfelt anguish that a play of this nature demands from its audience. Lucie Moulden was excellent as both Reggie and Zubaida, her stage tears nearly causing me to cry real ones as she described finding the mangled body of Matt Shepard tied to a fence. Ben Fiske’s portrayal of the young gay, Jonas, was uncaricatured and sensitive and, in spite of myself, I was profoundly moved by a rather cheesy speech about the stars and the Wyoming wind when Rob Hamilton made a statement as the murdered Matt Shepard’s heartbroken father.

The adoption of several roles by each cast member was a necessary feature of this play that seeks to highlight the tension between homophobic prejudice and human sympathy through the exploration of a wide range of individual perspectives. I found, however, that this didn’t allow for the actors to engage fully with each of their characters and so believability was not always consistent.

The space was used to great effect and the actors experimented with levels and blocking so that each scene was a beautifully crafted tableau. At times the stage looked like a Tommy Hilfiger photo shoot with the eclectic antique furniture and bric-a-brac scattered around the young performers in their checked shirts and fashionably ripped jeans.

The actors worked well together, pulling off some demanding scene changes. These were usually accompanied by either singing, or the drumming of an ominous tattoo, and so the fluid rearranging of props could have passed as veritable choreography when it was at its best.

The full cast of eleven was always on stage, the actors looking on with greedy curiosity even when they weren’t involved in a scene. Highly effective, this infused the various monologues with the sense of claustrophobia that inevitably surrounds this kind of tragedy in an intimate community.

‘The Laramie Project’ has the potential to be a truly outstanding show with just a little more commitment to characterisation. Even in the show’s current state, however, the Italia Conti Ensemble must be commended for an emotional performance that tackles this tragic story with feeling and grit.

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Kayte Williams

at 11:17 on 20th Aug 2013

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'The Laramie Project' was an inspired choice of play for the Italia Conti Ensemble, but they take that play and make it even better by a great performance. To sum up, it's an excellent depiction of a quiet Wyoming community reacting to the murder of a young gay man in the late 1990s. The cast all sings together in excellent choral arrangements to give a real feeling of unity, and sits onstage throughout, supporting each other with great background acting. The short monologues each actor delivers show a massive variety of characters, from a muslim feminist to a homophobic protester. No-one lets the cast down, and you leave feeling that these testimonies from townsfolk are the only way to show realistically the consequences of a murder.

The subject matter is obviously grim, showing how one incident can cause “so much grief to so many people”. However, the show's slick pace stopped it becoming maudlin, and it's heartening to see how a murder can actually inspire greater tolerance. The actors don't shy away from presenting prejudiced characters, but their sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of every character shows great confidence. Rob Hamilton and Sophie Wilkinson stood out for their spontaneous delivery in a show supposedly recreating real statements following a real event. In fact, even more confidence to pause would have improved the show, to allow the audience to appreciate the realistic dialogue and clear, sometimes beautiful staging.

The play used lighting and scenery imaginatively and intelligently, showcasing needed variety in a play 90 minutes long. A washing line was stretched across the stage to prove that, even after a murder, life goes on, while an office can be set up instantly with a couple of wooden pallets and some blinds. A spotlight shows a character in an anxious, lonely moment, while sound effects set up a world around them – for example, clicking fingers for camera flashes. The stage set and choral singing really create an atmosphere of a town with its own character. The show isn't about a murder, but about how an event can grieve an entire town, state and even a country.

If the Italia Conti Ensemble set out to prove each actor's individual worth, it succeeded, with everyone having their excellent ten minutes the spotlight. It's amazing how such young people can transform into an old granny, a harried mother, a strident student campaigning for change, and even a high court judge. It's clear the Ensemble has very talented musical, lighting and sound technicians working on the show too. More confidence in the show would have brought a slower pace and more spontaneous feel, making the emotional moments more moving and memorable. However, I guarantee you'll be incessantly embroiled in the drama, and probably leave with a greater understanding of how a town's foundations are rocked when it suddenly and tragically comes under the media spotlight.

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