EFR - Reviews of NOBEL

NOBEL

Wed 7th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Suzanne Duffy

at 21:25 on 14th Aug 2013

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‘Nobel’ represents death as a bodily struggle, with the main performer, Hayley Roberts, playing a terminally ill patient. The cast employed physical theatre and props to explore how a person deals with knowing how they are going to die, and to explore the pros and cons of scientific breakthroughs that might keep people alive for longer.

The scientific aspect to the play was genuinely fascinating, as it raised the possibility that research which won a Nobel Prize for regressing specialised cells back to stem cells might be able to expand human life beyond its ‘natural’ limit. The physical aspect of the production worked very well to highlight the focus on the body as a machine which could break down: lights were used to compartmentalise Robert’s body and expose its weak points, and balloons to demonstrate the development of a foetus.

The sound effect of the heart monitor, and later the heart beat, was powerful as it began to sound like a countdown to death, which was cleverly juxtaposed with the other sound effect of a cheery BBC News presenter talking about the massive advances in stem cell research. As the piece progressed and ventured into scare-mongering territory about how far humans should go with playing God, with the cast frantically shouting the characteristics they would most desire in a baby, it was on shakier ground. The random musical interlude was pitched to aim at black comedy, but missed and punctured the atmosphere.

The tight focus on the dying protagonist and those closest to her was what made the earlier scenes so successful, particularly her interaction with her doctor, who summed up the theme of the performance more successfully than the panic about ‘designer babies’ when she said: “just because you’re going to die doesn’t mean you can’t be ok.” Takehiro Kawase’s flexibility and suppleness as he danced a piece expressing both the grief and the acceptance in this statement was highly impressive. Roberts' physical interaction with her doctor as she repeatedly tries, and fails, to help her stand up, was also eloquent about the jumble of difficulties that come with caring for the terminally ill.

There is no denying that the direct question to the audience about terminal illness: “what would you do?”, delivered a shiver creeping up the spine, but, despite the frantic physicality of this devised piece, it simply lost its momentum at some points.

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Samuel Graydon

at 22:00 on 14th Aug 2013

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For a show that focusses so acutely on death, there is certainly a lot of life in ‘Nobel’. The physicality of the piece is very impressive, almost leaving me, let alone the actors, breathless. There was one point, for example, where Takehiro Kawese performed a cartwheel with a nonchalance that I thought was disallowed in any form of gymnastics.

There is not a particularly obvious plot line to the play, but its entertaining physical set pieces revolve around the idea of terminal illness and its repercussions. It is, in fact, more a thought exercise, concerning death, acted out, rather than a straightforward play. The somewhat opposing partnership of dance and death does, on occasion, jar. This is particularly the case when the actors enter brandishing colourful balloons and singing of the process of the moral implications of stem cell research.

However, the play, on the whole, remarkably pulls off this seeming antithesis. Primarily this is due to the real vivacity of the bodily representations of the subject matter. There is so much energy, as well as graft, from the performers that one cannot help but be impressed. The speed of delivery and of the switching narration is particularly engaging.

More to the point, however, there are scenes where the physicality is forefronted well above the premise of plot. These are really rather good. This is even more so the case when combined with the interesting lighting effects. The combination of darkness with pinpoints of light creates a film noir-like intensity that the movements of the actors live up to. The clever journey through the development of a human embryo, from conception to the first signs of activity in the brain, via the medium of more balloon assisted dance, was a particular highlight.

The problem I had with the play was that it had these moments of clever skilful physical theatre, but that was all they were, moments, combined together in a way that made them more apparently disparate than connected. For the theme, as provokingly thoughtful as it was, made the elements of the play seem tangentially tenuous to one another. Yet, for the sheer brilliant physicality of the production I did genuinely enjoy this production.

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