GMO: Genetically Modified Organism

Sat 6th – Sat 13th August 2016

reviews

Becky Wilson

at 23:40 on 12th Aug 2016

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‘GMO: Genetically Modified Organism’ is an incredibly ambitious production. Set predominantly in a courtroom, the small but resolute cast wrestle with huge questions: What constitutes a human? Should mankind meddle with nature? And, most potently, is it ever morally acceptable to kill the individual in order to save the many? The defendant is Amelia Fowler (Celyn Morris), an illegally-conceived, genetically modified child. And, in a stroke of genius that engages us from the start, the audience is the jury. Aided by flashbacks, physical theatre and the penetrative appeals of lawyers, we have to decide Amelia’s fate.

This is some of the most consistently inventive staging I have seen. At the opening, Amelia dances with increasing agony while a screen behind her projects shifting clips of telescopic cells, a developing foetus and a heartrate monitor. Paired with an intense soundtrack and red lighting, the effect is certainly unnerving. Later, Amelia becomes a ragdoll, bending in response as a scientist verbally dissects her body. Through shrewd use of a teddy bear, the protagonist even manages to convey the sense that she has left her body, and is observing the scene from afar. Huge credit must therefore go to both director Rob Maddison and assistant director Lucy Spain for exhibiting their undoubtable creative flair.

Unfortunately, Maddison is let down somewhat by his cast’s delivery. Morris fails to fully inhabit the (admittedly challenging) physicality of a four-year-old girl. She is a little too composed for such a distressed child, and needs to lose her gracefulness when traversing the stage. These changes would render her wide-eyed performance more arresting. Moreover, all cast members should commit more to the bold moments of physical theatre. It is a huge shame that their slightly clumsy attempts at the choreography land the piece somewhere uncomfortably in the no-man’s land between distorted, heightened physicality and naturalism.

The straight acting, however, is strong from all cast members. Particular mention must go to Jonathan Hibberd and Rebecca Landale, who capture the articulate squabbling of lawyers brilliantly, and deliver their opening arguments to the audience with a flourish. Though given a woefully small role, Sarah Bulmer’s portrayal of a compassionate doctor is engaging and completely believable.

In many senses, ‘GMO’ is a rough diamond. It is an extremely impressive Fringe offering which, with a larger budget and greater thought into the ending, could be polished into something quite profound. If the prosecutor’s argument was developed further, it would make the audience’s decision more difficult. Moreover, the dénouement after the audience’s vote strikes me as an anticlimactic evasion of the central issues. It would have been fascinating, though admittedly demanding, if the cast had explored the future the environmentalist lawyer warned us about: a future of designer babies, and soldiers genetically-engineered into killing machines.

But perhaps that is for the sequel. Given the fascinating premise and excellent delivery of this initial offering, I will be the first to buy a ticket.

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Caragh Aylett

at 09:52 on 13th Aug 2016

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'GMO: Genetically Modified Organism' is an ambitious piece of original writing. The Cardiff University group have created an interesting piece that considers issues ever present in 21st century society.

The performance tells the story of four year old Amelia Fowler (Celyn Morris), a girl who was genetically modified in the womb. It depicts a court case debating whether she is guilty of being an accessory to the crime of genetic modification; if she is guilty she faces death and if she is innocent she is saved. The audience are called to make that decision.

The writing is creative and thoughtful. Rebecca Landale’s astounding performance as Natalie Fowler, the aunt of Amelia and her defendant, is coupled with a script that presents her as confident and successful as well as nervous and scared for Amelia’s life. This character depth is equally as present in Jasper Harrow (Jonathan Hibberd). Not a heartless man who wants Amelia dead but, rather, a man who is so worried about the future of GMO and its effects on humanity that his last resort is the court case. His separation from Amelia comes across as avoiding the idea of her death rather than simply ignoring her.

'GMO' illuminates many of the issues present in the genetic modification debate. It allows the audience to consider the future uses of genetic modification in bio-weaponry, designer children or manufactured soldiers. The audience is also called to think about the attacks that Amelia has suffered and the effect of her father’s imprisonment. However, 'GMO' certainly does not try to cover all the possible arguments in the case; it does not discuss the religious aspect or the morality of taking her life, for example. This decision to ignore some issues is one of 'GMO’s strengths, if they had tried to debate everything then discussion would have been rushed but, as it stands, 'GMO' sets forward clear arguments to allow the audience to make their final decision and opens up the possibility of further debate afterwards.

'GMO' blends many different elements of performance. Amelia’s life before her birth is portrayed through the use of a short, projected film while the court case’s debate is broken up with sections of physical movement. This prevents what could easily descend into a a dull court room drama, and it keeps the audience engaged and adds another level to the performance.

'GMO' is an exciting and ambitious new piece of theatre. It opens up the debate regarding genetic modification and creates a discussion that will stay with you long after the performance.

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