The Savage Planet

Sat 3rd – Sun 11th August 2013

reviews

Ashley Chhibber

at 21:12 on 6th Aug 2013

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A scientific experiment gone wrong on an alien world. A primitive creature intentionally given the means to organise and rebel. Science fiction without any special effects. This is a concept with much potential; unfortunately, in this production, much of that potential goes unrealised.

The scenes featuring the Oms, sentient creatures originally from Earth but lacking a spoken language, lie somewhere between mime and interpretive dance. Katia Kapustina (Terra) was particularly good at this, and it is small wonder she was cast as the most important Om. Johnny Craig (as a savage Om) died very well, but did not seem to channel the same ease in life. These scenes, the silent interactions between Terra and the savage Oms, were generally quite beautiful in their simplicity, a great use of physical theatre. It was certainly interesting to see that a lack of speech does not hinder communication or entertainment: the silent scenes were, in general, the most engaging.

Yet the scenes which did involve speaking were poorly delivered and not particularly well written. I do not include here the opening and closing ‘scientific’ monologues, which were interesting and gave the plot the impetus it needed; David East (Sinh) would have been far better if he had more confidence in his lines. Although the play claims to explore themes of barbarism, knowledge and power, the script gave those only a superficial treatment.

There were a few noticeable structural problems. The decision to finish the experiment and the announcement that the Oms had been killed followed each other with only the slightest scene break, and were in turn followed by a scene in which the extermination is acted out; this choice of ordering seemed very counter-intuitive. The production might also have benefitted from blackouts during scene changes, but within the constraints of budget and venue this was understandably not logistically possible.

It should be emphasised that the simple props, costumes and set design were no barrier to the creation of believable science fiction. The stilted movements of the Draags might have slowed down the action considerably, but they also delineated the two races very clearly and effectively. However, the insistent use of invented words to suggest an alien language, most notably in a pointless and boring scene in which Sinh reports on the developments of various otherworldly species of flora and fauna, grew old very quickly, and felt like the script was trying far too hard to stress the alien status. Perhaps the team tried too hard overall to actualise the science-fiction features; as a result, it overlooked some basic elements which, if treated with more care, would have greatly improved this production.

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James Cetkovski

at 09:42 on 7th Aug 2013

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As you arrive at the Fiddler’s Elbow to see The Watersports Aficionados’ new play ‘Savage Planet’ you realise straight away from the cast’s appearance that you’re in for some serious science fiction. Three actors, a man and two women, kneel stage right; the man (Johnny Craig) has the Rutger Hauer look that we haven’t been able to get away from in sci-fi and fantasy since ‘Blade Runner’ while the women (Katia Kapustina and Sinead MacInnes) might well have bright futures playing the sort of severe blonde women who never wear their hair down (is there a rule?) who populate TV shows like ‘Battlestar Galactica.’

This isn’t to criticise—the steely ‘Blade Runner’-ish aesthetic is probably the best feature of ‘Savage Planet’. It tells the story of Ygam, a post-cataclysmic civilisation in which the hyperintelligent Draags keep the more primitive, domesticated Oms—humans, essentially—as pets. What happens when the Draags, out of scientific curiousity, implant the Oms with the desire for freedom?

Apparently what happens is alternating chunks of wordless physical theatre and windy narration. Of the two the physical theatre sections are the more successful; the actors scuttle and creep, embodying the primitive Oms, but the movements are never quite assured enough for the impression of primitiveness to convince. A bigger problem is that the movement and the narration don’t work together especially well. I sat looking at the actors writhing on the stage before me in utter confusion for five minutes, wondering if I was supposed to understand what was happening, until a recorded voice-over kicked in: ‘Perhaps some exposition might help,’ it said, before explaining the action at great and ponderous length. Well yes, the exposition helped, but surely the movement could have been coordinated in such a way that it wouldn’t require such a lengthy explanation? It’s tough for physical theatre to pack much of a punch when the audience doesn’t know what’s happening.

The production undertakes the familiar sci-fi investigations of freedom and the fundamental nature of humanity but as far as I can tell there isn’t anything particular new or surprising about their conclusions. As a story there’s just not much at stake—it’s so difficult for the audience to get to grips with the complicated scenario and the production spends so long assembling the basic mechanism of the plot that there isn’t energy or time left to care very much about any of the characters. The Draags are never in any real danger from the Oms; the Oms don’t end up much worse off than they began. In the end the visual is the only level on which the production works; narrative trouble and uncertain execution renders it emotionally inert.

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