Circleville, Circlevalley

Wed 3rd – Sun 21st August 2016

reviews

Grace Calvert

at 09:51 on 13th Aug 2016

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A young and plucky drama therapist, Ellen, welcomes you into the room. She later tells you that Circleville has a lot of problems, it is a pot-hole town, and that she is going to fix it. She is going to fix the people. ‘Circleville, Circlevalley’ is Experimental Theatre Club’s slickly choreographed look at drama therapy.

‘Circleville, Circlevalley’ is an immersive piece of theatre. The audience members are expected to interact with the performance. At one point my bag and jacket are politely requisitioned and used as costume. I fair well, others are asked to hold hands with the actors while they pour emotional speeches straight into their eyes, or run around the room.

Immersive theatre can be quite uncomfortable. Though it is not overdone and the actors do not ask too much of those they pick, I am not sure that it adds to the play enough to justify the audience’s discomfort. For a play about a safe space, they certainly do not extended that courtesy to the audience.

The therapy is all based around one exercise where one of the members of Ellen’s group create a ‘dream world’ to help them express what has been troubling them. These dream worlds are created by the ensemble’s impeccably choreographed movement sequences and gorgeous, hefty poetic language. The cast’s performances are remarkably strong.

Yet the audience is left with a sense of plummeting down the rabbit hole. It is aesthetically brilliant, but it is hard to distinguish what is real and what’s not. We could accept the perfectly choreographed dream world sequences as hyperbolic versions of the characters’ play therapy. However, if that is so, why does the weighty lyrical language and ease of expression, ease of performance, continue into the moments of ‘reality’ when the dreams have ended? A bit like Alice, should we convince ourselves that it is all false? Or maybe we should trust in the hyperbole and accept Experimental Theatre Club’s rose tinted version of drama therapy for an hour?

It is undoubtedly an interesting piece, but that lack of clarity holds it back, as the audience is unable to distinguish reality from dream. It prevents you from emotionally investing with the characters, no matter how wonderfully acted they are. Nobody cries at 'Alice in Wonderland'.

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Charlotte Thomas

at 10:53 on 13th Aug 2016

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‘Circleville, Circlevalley’, by Lamorna Ash, explores the meaning of ‘safe space’ through straight theatre, physical and immersive theatre. The result is an interesting discussion of what a safe space means in the world of therapy and counselling, how it can be compromised and whether it is ever truly what it purports to be.

Tom Stafford’s music is well designed and serves to enhance the parts of the play where it is used, never an uneccessary accessory. Lighting design (Chris Burr) is well thought-through: subtle, yet enough to shift our focus and change the atmosphere of a piece which oscillates between reality and imagination. Designer (Harriet Bourhill) and producer (Emily Lunnon) demonstrate a deft touch in the costume design – each character’s personality being demonstrated without erring on the side of cliché.

I am interested in the set – a few sawn-off plastic chairs, with touches of orange spray paint, signifying both the inside of the community centre where their session takes place and to serve as props for their stories. I feel normal chairs would have served just as well, however they could have been there signifying the deterioration between reality and imagination, safe space and unsafe space. Either way, they are used to great effect and director Sammy Glover should be commended for fantastic choreography – a personal highlight being Joe’s (Yash Saraf) frantic commute.

Dramatherapist (“it’s one word”) Ellen, played by Rebecca Hamilton, is gentle but always slightly sinister – one is never sure if she really cares about Circleville or is only motivated by personal goals. Sal (Mary Higgins) is the main focus, most of the play revolving around her efforts to mend familial relationships after a bereavement. Higgins displays fierce maternal instinct, and I truly believed her character when I was asked to stand in as her infant daughter. Seamus Lavan, playing Eddy, has an interesting job in that he is the sole physical signifier of the outside world entering their safe space. The conviction with which he delivers his lines is impressive. Saraf is excellent, and very convincing in his characterisation, which never slips. The stand out for me is Isobel Jesper-Jones (Carrie). Her piercing eyes and precise movements had me constantly wary of her, but equally rooting for her. Jesper-Jones, with Saraf, provide the welcome moments of comic relief in the piece – with wonderful timing and some witty one-liners.

Overall, the script is engaging and touching. Occasionally some scenes could be a bit shorter, and others leave me unsure as to their overall relevance, and the end seems rather abrupt after such a long exploration of everyone’s situations. However, the piece is sensitive, well-acted, and well-produced – an intriguing piece of theatre.

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