TESTAMENT

Fri 3rd – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Martha Crass

at 21:45 on 5th Aug 2018

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This was certainly one of the more disorientating fifty-five minutes of my life. Ostensibly it was quite a simple set-up: the stage bare except for a large bed on castors, framed by two pieces of set painted with monochromatic tree branches, both elements giving the space a sense of the gothic.

Beyond this, however, ‘TESTAMENT' quickly became bewildering in a number of ways, with Chalk Line Theatre enthusiastically using every element of production at their disposal to excess. There was nothing to sustain any sense of narrative, as disjointed scenes were vaguely introduced and blacked out in a seemingly random order; the few plot points that appeared were lost amongst abstracted musings on life and death. These could have been thoughtful, well-articulated, bold; but instead they bore more resemblance to the sort of intense, seemingly-profound conversation you might have with a friend on a night out after a few drinks. Meaningless lines such as ‘we can’t leave, we’re all just energy!’, were delivered with such verve and passion that they veered into melodrama, as did the use of large flashing lights and dizzying rotation of the bed throughout the play.

A particularly bizarre moment came in the form of a hallucination where Max’s (Nick Young) girlfriend Tess (Hannah Benson) appeared suddenly through an opening in the bed and dragged him down through it head first, in a Trainspotting-esque sequence which was surreal even for a play whose premise was built around the fever-dreams of a character in limbo between life and death. Loud, eerie, unfamiliar music contributed to the unsettling atmosphere which pervaded throughout, and it was a combination of this, and the rapid scene changes, which saved the play from becoming dull. It seemed to hold the audience’s interest, if only because of its peculiarity.

The cast were certainly not short of enthusiasm, and David Angland and Daniel Leadbitter, as Jesus and Lucifer respectively, adapted well to the demands the script made of them and the various forms in which their characters appeared. In general, however, lines were either delivered unconvincingly or with such energy that they were overwhelming, and much of the play’s script seemed to be shouted.

One scene which was more enjoyable followed the brothers Max and Chris (William Shackleton) getting ready to go clubbing on a typical lads’ night out; here some incisive observational comedy was presented with great comic timing. The were some other parts that also displayed a bit of dynamism. There was one where a seedy salesman offered the brothers various potions which promise more gratifying sexual experiences, or a taxi driver’s yearning after a singing career is cut short. But while they would have made for amusing sketches, in the context of this production they seemed confusing and were rendered largely pointless by their irrelevance to the main story (if one could really be identified).

The accompanying programme handed out at the box office features a quote from a previous reviewer who wrote that the play ‘asks important questions’. For me, the play itself didn’t pose any questions of a particularly important nature; by contrast, the most pressing question on my mind throughout was ‘what on earth is going on?’

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Megan Luesley

at 01:53 on 6th Aug 2018

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Chalk Line Theatre’s ‘TESTAMENT’ is an ambitious piece that, in exploring the mind of a car crash victim, attempts to explore themes of love and loss, religion and relationships. It’s the kind of show that could very easily devolve into heavy handed tedium. But it’s hard to find fault in this heartfelt and endlessly creative production.

Max (Nick Young) awakens in hospital, remembering being in a car crash with his girlfriend Tess (Hannah Benson). Meanwhile, his brother Chris (William Shackleton) tries desperately to aid Max in his recovery and convince him to have the surgery the Doctor (Jensen Gray) insists he needs to survive.

As if all this didn’t sound weighty and complicated enough, there’s the small matter of theology to contend with as Jesus (David Angland) and Lucifer (Daniel Leadbitter) both appear to Max as apparitions, pushing and pulling him in different directions, encouraging who to trust and who to not. These depictions aren’t orthodox – the two wear the same costume, except one is in black and the other white, but they talk in shades of grey. There’s also a similarity to their characters, a kind of suave charisma (one of Jesus’ first lines is “I’m the mess…hiyah”) that makes their battle to lead Max in their chosen directions that much more unpredictable.

But despite the Biblical standoff, the core of ‘TESTAMENT’ is undoubtedly earthly: human memory, perception and relationships. As the show progresses, layers of ambiguity are stripped back as the audience are allowed to piece together the truth that Max searches for, and writer Sam Edmunds skilfully leads one revelation into another. Most importantly, Edmunds doesn’t pass any obvious judgments or moral lessons. Just as in real life, the best solution is a subjective matter.

It is very easy for such a heavily philosophical show to become self-absorbed, perhaps even dull. But Edmunds, co-directing with William Patrick Harrison, never lets the show become repetitive or stilted. Every scene transitions smoothly to the next: a car becomes a hospital bed, a doctor’s discussion segways effortlessly into memories of Tess’ birthday, and this only becomes more impressive as Max’s mental state fragments further. One particularly effective scene, combining imagery of brain surgery with the car crash, takes place in darkness, with shining headlights and laser pointers as Max struggles against doctors cloaked in shadow. The physical theatre aspects of the show never feel self-indulgent, but instead they draw the audience further into this very personal story, and are enhanced by the highly atmospheric sound design.

However, despite its heavy subject matter, ‘TESTAMENT’ is careful not to be endlessly depressing. There are nuggets of humour carefully balanced throughout, such as a taxi driver attempting to give an impromptu Disney performance to Max and Chris, or Max asking Tess if she wants to take his car for a “Tess drive”. It’s little moments like that which make the production more human and ultimately more effective.

In such an ensemble piece, it is hard to commend one performer over any others. However, Young shone as Max, baring his pains and splintered mind to the audience in a way that was often heartbreaking.

As a reviewer, there’s always a reluctance to assign five stars to a production. But everything that ‘TESTAMENT’ aimed for, it achieved. An intricately crafted triumph of creativity.

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