To quote the magnificent J.R.R Tolkien: ‘All that does glitter is not gold’ – a quote which kept being brought to mind whilst watching Strangers. Directed by Joe Strickland, this was the penultimate performance in Nottingham New Theatre’s Fringe season. Dazzling, yet for the most part, extremely raw, Strangers successfully entwined the bewildering world of magic and illusion with deep questions of individual existence.
To summarise, Strangers brings to life six characters, all of which have some relation to magic or the unfathomable. Alternating between two rooms, each character gets their chance to tell the audience about their life experience, all the while incorporating magic into their performance. At first, the production seemed like it was to focus more on the magic aspect as the audience were asked to participate right from the get go – something which effectively created a false sense of security. Moreover, what worked particularly well in the performance’s favour was that as the conclusion approached, magic became less of a display, and the tricks being performed were far from entertaining, and in fact took a very sinister turn.
“This intrusion upon the audience successfully created an atmosphere of discomfort”
The use of magic in the theatre performance was an interesting premise, but something I initially believed would not work. However, magic was used as a stunning visual aid to the pain and suffering of the on-stage characters, and put a fresh and exciting spin onto the performance style. Discomfort and uneasiness seemed to prevail throughout, with the viewer at the end being left to question their own existence. From the outset, the audience is subjected to a detailed psycho-analysis by ‘The Mind Reader’, where three subjects from the audience (myself being one of them) were asked to draw a picture. From the details of this picture the ‘Mind-Reader’, played brilliantly by Melina Paneris, told the audience exactly who had drawn the picture and why. This intrusion upon the audience successfully created an atmosphere of discomfort. Our autonomy was questioned and the control to which we all believe we have over ourselves, our own brains and our secrets, was bought crashing down. This feeling of true intrusion was created masterfully, and I was shocked by how much this deeply affected me, and left a lasting feeling of vulnerability.
“Even though all of the characters had a story of woe, only some of the stories managed to hit home”
Unfortunately this play was not without its flaws. Whilst the illusion of self-control was successfully bought crashing down, the very rawness of these characters lives and stories was somewhat lost in the fact that there was so many of them. Even though all of the characters had a story of woe, only some of the stories managed to hit home. Due to the fact that every character was so complex and so well created, becoming emotionally invested in all of them was difficult and watching each painful and complex story only helped provoke desensitisation.
However, this was only the only fault to find in an otherwise genius production. I was shocked to discover that this was the first performance for many of the cast members, as they delivered a solid and powerful production, along with the production crew. Overall, a thoughtful and provoking play and one to keep thinking about long after the cast took their bows.
Strangers is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Monday 30th Novemeber, for more information see here