Is it possible to truly convey emotional trauma through the use of physical theatre? Yes, it is, if we use this amateur theatre production as an example. The play explored the complexity of grieving death, and focuses particularly upon the difficulty for a group of male friends to express emotion when their friend commits suicide, often using humour and callousness as a defence mechanism. The New Theatre’s talented and versatile cast of four (Jonny Fitzpatrick, Sam Warren, Sam Hayward and Sean Jones) were able to convey this difficulty flawlessly, whilst simultaneously showing impressive strength and co-ordination in terms of the physical theatre aspect of the production.
The changing emotional tone of the play from light-hearted to intense was successfully accomplished through the use of suitable lighting and sound. The use of black out, flashing lights and spotlight (lighting by Lawrence Bolton, Jess Courtney and Matt Wilks) was not sporadic and unjustified as can be said of other professional productions, but suitably increased tension and emotional impact on the audience at points of high emotion within the production.
Extremely loud music, accompanied by strobe lighting and martial arts training, was used effectively during the key fight scene, contrasting with the sullen stillness felt on stage after the deceased friend’s urn of ashes are smashed across the floor. The music, composed by Alex Condliffe and Jonny Fitzpatrick was wide-ranging and impressive, from forceful and intense to touching, foreboding and ethereal. A combination of these stage effects with versatile and malleable acting enabled the audience to be emotionally engaged throughout and left them emotionally exhausted at the climax; a result of sheer sensory-overload that had allowed them to fully absorb themselves within the production. As an audience, we were able to associate and engage fully with the show as a result of the huge range of emotions spanned by the actors; from scenes containing crass, hilarious ‘lad-banter’ to scenes of tear-evoking sentimentality, the cast’s acting possessed a distinguishable human-like quality.
The set composed mostly of scaffolding was a suitable medium for the actors to utilise in terms of physical theatre, yet was also modest and did not distract from the events on stage. Our focus was on the actors themselves and not their surroundings, perhaps highlighting further the high level of acting that was presented to us in this production. The use of a form of martial art training known as Capoeira (choreography by Roger Smissen) incorporated within the physical theatre was another thing for the cast to think about, and yet was impressively carried out.
Effective, powerful physical theatre in a relatively small performance space with an equally small cast is difficult to come by; however, director Matt Wilks, producer Elin Stenner-Matthews and the entirety of the New Theatre cast, direction, production and tech team of Hymns did a superb and commendable job.