Remember, what you are watching is not a play. It relies on your belief to engage with the subject, to understand what the Project represents and how it will alter your lives forever.
‘The Project’, a collaborative work from the Nottingham New Theatre, is the first of a duo of plays being taken to Edinburgh this summer. The piece is the brainchild of director Bridie Rollins and Producer and Co-writer Martha Rose Wilson, a formidable force on the student theatre scene.
Seated around a thrust stage, the actors appear very normal, casually writing notes and engaging in brief chatter with audience members. Sufficed to say, ‘remarkable’ is a fittingly apt word for this performance for a variety of reasons. I find it quite hard to write about ‘The Project’; this is no detriment to actors or the writing, both of which were excellent, but rather it has continued to intrigue me some twenty-four hours later by its skill of challenging my perceptions of the play constantly and asking myself to question what I had first thought.
In many ways, the performance is very naturalistic with no heightened sense that actors are characters in a play at all. It is as though we, the audience, have stumbled upon some great human social experiment. We discover that ‘The Project’ assumes the idea that different members of this dystopian future are brought in with a mental ailment of some kind. By spending time at ‘The Project’ the test subjects are pushed to their mental and physical limits to be cured, the actors being clear that what we are watching is not a play; it is not a creation of different ideas directed onto stage but rather we are part of something special, something that we can ultimately play a part in and aid helping to change those that take part within it. This pushed to an extent that the audience are welcomed to move around the stage, to stop actors as they speak and ask questions so that we may learn and gain better understanding of what this is all about. In a play that encourages the involvement of the audience, the cast admirably engaged with a slightly over zealous audience member, not faltering in their lines, and delivering such sharp improvisation that it might well have been scripted all along.
The characterization in the play, whilst subtle, gave a grim yet enchantingly seductive side to the actors. Harry Bradley shone out from the start, nervous and with charming geeky demeanour, his odd twitching and clear intimidation made him a joy to watch. Praise must also be given to the subject of the project, Amelia, who’s performance was both natural and endearing, with her use of heightened anguish and despair as she was locked within the prison of her own mind used to quite terrifying effect. Physical aspects of the performance were equally well thought out; at times the characters were entirely naturalistic and would go on to break into physical movement and synchronised dance, almost employing an absurdist element to the drama, whilst heightening the question of whether people in this futuristic society have any control over themselves, or if instead they are nothing more than puppets on strings.
The minimalist staging of the play lends itself well to the performance and will work remarkably well in Edinburgh. Yet this is where my only criticism of the play would come in: I enjoyed the way in which the actors worked to both physically and mentally attempt to annihilate Amelia but there was the potential to push the play to more dangerous grounds which they did not exploit. They could have displayed a more sinister edge, allowing characters to develop further.
My advice to anyone up Edinburgh and thinking about seeing ‘The Project’ would be this; be cautious about what you first think about it. Don’t try and work it out immediately, but rather enjoy to rich layers of complexity that the play opens up to you. I find it hard to categorise this play in a review, which I think says so much about its intrigue. The only think I can say is go and see it.
The Project will be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013 2nd – 24th August. https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/project