What Lies Beneath

Fri 4th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Tamsin Bracher

at 09:54 on 24th Aug 2017

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It is difficult to describe a reaction that is primarily sensory. And that is how I felt when I walked out of the Monkey Zoo theatre where ‘What Lies Beneath’ is being staged. This production left me with a lingering impression I was unable to shake off for the rest of the afternoon; a haunting and intuitive awareness that some part of me had been fundamentally affected. An exploration of male grief, mental health and the point at which the sane becomes the surreal, ‘What Lies Beneath’ offers its audience a visually striking and powerfully immersive performance unlike anything I have seen at the Fringe this year.

This show is brought to Edinburgh by the Swedish theatre company, Romantika, after previously being performed in London, Paris and Birmingham. It tells the story of a man (played by Chris Mawson) who, in an attempt to reconcile himself to the death of a loved one, seeks refuge at the top of a mountain. The play goes on to develop in a series of increasingly curious flashbacks, a sequence of past conversations with both family and friends. Chris executed his role with graceful skill and profundity. Moreover, the pensive melancholia the show strove towards was perfectly offset by both set and costume.

Throughout the performance the stage was bathed in a cold blue light and echoed with the primal tones of Scandinavian folk music. There was something primitive and primeval about ‘What Lies Beneath’ – the physical dance routines suggesting barely sublimated violence. And this made Chris’ attempt to nurture a flame all the more poignant. Romantika’s radical set design challenged established binaries: light is no longer the direct opposite of dark, male no longer the direct opposite of female, comic no longer the direct opposite of tragic. Instead ‘What Lies Beneath’ explores the point at which these boundaries merge, and the production’s strong creative drive was mainly inspired by this sense of the liminal, the shadowy in-between that lends itself to an infinite number of possible alternatives.

Out of this grey area, between the devil and the deep blue sea, rose an elegant and humbling exploration of loss. ‘What Lies Beneath’ is a show fundamentally concerned with the difference between appearance and reality – ‘moping’ and ‘sulk[ing] around’ are terms wrongly attributed to mourning. Early on in the performance, Chris exclaims how ‘the more I look … the more uncertain I become’. This reaction fittingly describes the audience’s own experience. Highly innovative and at times off-the-wall whacky, ‘What Lies Beneath’ is a play that takes some getting used to. With no clear beginning, middle or end, it is initially difficult to appreciate the fleeting transitions of its structure. But I urge you to persist. Do not worry if ten minutes into the production you still feel alienated from the cast. The absurd, the outlandish and the uncanny necessarily exist worlds away from our own. And at some point, the beating of the drum and the freakiness of the encounters will become vitally and essentially inescapable.

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Adele Cooke

at 14:20 on 24th Aug 2017

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Preoccupied with what it means to be alone in the modern world, ‘What Lies Beneath’ is universally identifiable. Displaying the relationship between man and imagination, territory, vulnerability, nostalgia, emasculation and depression, this a show most can relate to. The protagonist represents both his literal and emotional journey as he finds himself alone in the mountains, confronted with visions of lost ones and lovers, depression and grief. These hallucinations take on cycles, as the protagonist replays his time with his lost girlfriend, recasting the same dialogue for dramatic effect. This is successful as these visions become more stylised as the production progresses, representing the taking hold of pneumonia and the loss of reality. At the close sheets of sheer fabric shrouded the protagonist in confusion, and all semblance of the plot was dissolved.

The use of light and shadow was particularly commendable, as the production literally cast a light on issues pertaining to male mental health which often go unspoken. This motif was then rehashed in the final ten minutes of the performance using matches, alluding to the isolation many feel in their mental illnesses. This was striking, creating a calm atmosphere that clearly resonated in the small theatre. The ambiance was then increased further as the protagonist was touched once final time by the memory of his lost lover, played beautifully by Molly Hemsley. This was clever as in doing so the protagonist, played by Chris Mawson, was both united and isolated by his grief as the pneumonia took hold. Although, at times this relationship could have been made more explicit, as the audience were left to presume the connection between Hemsley and Mawson’s characters. However, this is part of the brilliance of the performance, as the audience were left to conclude as they please and therefore take away from it what they may. I felt this was effective when representing mental health, as so many individuals’ experiences cannot be understood by others, despite being blanketed under the umbrella term of mental illness. Whether the barren landscape represented a physical place or was just a manifestation of the protagonist’s isolation is unclear. However, ambiguity is the hallmark of this production, and was executed with intent and purpose. What is clearly explicit is Romantika production's success in producing a beautiful piece of physical theatre which should be highly commended, both in its subject matter and execution.

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