Revenants

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Tamzin Kerslake

at 08:56 on 10th Aug 2018

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As I walked out of Patrick Sandford’s 'Revenants', I found myself wishing to reach for my school texts books and revise the past 100 years of European and American history. The play opens to find a picnic between Queen Mary, her chauffeur Walcott, and actor Ernest Thesiger in a tranquil English woodland in 1943. The date is highly charged, being 25 years after the assassination of the Romanovs and 25 years before that of Martin Luther King, exploring personal struggles and choices in the face of violent adversity.

Whilst this setting may have stirred ‘Wind in the Willows’, there is certainly no messing about in boats. The technical and stage crew create a depiction of English tranquillity which perfectly juxtaposes the violent themes of the dialogue, heightening its meaning more so. Nichola McAuliffe and Kevin Moore expertly command the pricked dialogue, grasping the quick political metaphors and quips – something that should be expected from McAuliffe as she was the literary genius behind such a script. The dialogue between the two did not once falter, effortlessly dancing between the actors. Sweeping the audience up with their dry English humour and plunging them into hard hitting moments of realisation, the ebb and flow saw the audience lost in their hold, grappling with the poignant historical accounts. Although they were careful never to leave the audience in a position of emotional insecurity for long, some of the pauses in dialogue and changes in tone were slightly too elongated – though this could merely be a sign of the distress of the characters.

Stevens as G.I. Monk breaks their party. Whilst he may at first have come across as slightly too ‘Annie’-esque, his performance of the repressed young black American struck chords. He is certainly a young actor to watch out for. His characterisation and revolutionary motives perfectly opposed his older generation as they found themselves fighting each side of their corners, never fully resolving who was right or wrong - for even the ending left the audience questioning ‘what if?’

Peter Straker as Walcott, the butler, gave a beautifully understated performance, acting as the mediator between the parties. Whether he was an allusion to Derek Walcott was argued fervently from both sides as we left the theatre, but either way his poetic language was certainly moving. A stand out moment of the entire performance was his harrowing rendition of Billie Holiday’s 'Strange Fruit'. Letting his refined British accent slip away, his coarse blues voice rang through the auditorium, the words both stirring and hard-hitting.

Several allusions to movements, such as Black Lives Matter, were made throughout the piece, making powerful historical parallels. This acted as a reminder that, no matter how much we may try to distance ourselves with the past, the ringing sentiment is a reminder of the revenant cycle of ongoing repression. Quite frankly, this repetitive history must end and we all need to change.

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Olivia Cooke

at 09:05 on 10th Aug 2018

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Turn to the dictionary definition of ‘thought-provoking’ and you will be met with Patrick Sandford’s 'Revenants'. After leaving the Pleasance Dome, I couldn't help but reflect upon the incredibly moving piece of drama that I had just witnessed.

Set twenty-five years after the murder of the Romanovs and twenty-five years before the assassination of Martin Luther King, 'Revenants' inhabits a quasi-timeless world where the past, present, and future collide in unsettling and unexpected ways.

All the characters are haunted by the resonances of both private and shared pasts. Queen Mary (played with mimetic accuracy by Nichola McAuliffe), is consumed by a guilt which sees a personal tragedy played out through the retelling of an infamous moment in Russian history. Crippled by her failure to save the Romanovs from their own demise (“The blood was on my hands”), McAuliffe’s acting abilities excel throughout the monologues in which her character attempts to confront her past. Her voice oscillates between both repressive and emotive tones, as we see Queen Mary’s stiff upper lip gradually break down. McAuliffe’s ability to capture the subtle nuances of grief - from her self-consciously emotive mannerisms to a voice affected by heartbreak - creates an electric atmosphere in the theatre, charged with stirringly intimate emotions.

The play’s exploration of the effect of history on the individual is also showcased through Tok Stephen’s performance as G.I. Monk. Stephens’ commanding presence on stage is intentionally undercut by his character’s nervous movements, as we see Monk retell his traumatic history of racial persecution in the US army. In a particularly moving scene, Monk shares an anecdote about how his cousin was lynched by a group of white people. The entrenched emotion in his stuttering speech (“His name was Chh […] Charlie Monk, and he was my cousin”), packs a loaded punch to the heart. This is then amplified through a recital of Nina Simone’s 'Strange Fruit', hauntingly performed by the other black character on stage, Walcott (Peter Straker).

Despite its weighty themes, ranging from political revolution to homophobia and racism, the play does offset its thought-provoking content with the occasional (and much welcome) comedic moment. McAuliffe’s script seeks to join the literal and figurative light and dark together, as each character goes on a journey of self-discovery - a journey which attempts to connect their past history to a collective and more progressive present.

'Revenants' personalises multiple histories in a way which offers oppressed communities a chance to have their voices heard. The retelling of history through a small group of individuals allows the audience to dwell upon the interplay between the past and the present and permits us to place our own history within a shared and multi-vocal account of the past.

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