STUDIOSPACE - BRISTOL
BY ALEXANDER DEFERT
THE ONLY ME IS ME? ARE YOU SURE THE ONLY YOU IS YOU?
Studiospace's final show of the year is often a drab affair; with the audience of cast and crew friends drag themselves out of the rare English sunshine to give the last gasp of the theatrical year a polite send off. Despite my resignation to a similar afternoon, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself witnessing an enjoyable and pleasingly experimental show. There were no typecast actors, no overlong monologues or irritating cliches; and absolutely zero attempts to jump scare or otherwise 'shock' (cough cough) the audience in a cheap and clumsy attempt at forcing audience engagement.
The show's writing was well handled by the always impressive Sam Bird, whose ability to craft subtle and engaging dialogue (as well as treat sensitive issues with the respect they deserve) was a credit to the difficult art of genuine artistic exploration. His co-direction with the equally commendable Isabelle Fink was evident in the tightly crafted narrative and attention to detail which marked the production.
The set design and the lighting were both beautiful and carefully thought out; complimenting the piece without becoming a crutch for performance. Special mention must go to Charlie Mitchell for his impressive work with the lighting sequences which involved an array of hanging lightbulbs. Not only did it look extremely good, but also required him to control them manually without the aid of a programmable sequencer or automatic control.
The play's focus on issues of loss, mental health and the difficulties unique to specific individuals was commendable not only for its engaging nature, but also for coming at the time it has. Bristol University has come into serious criticism across the national press for its string of recent student suicides, and much focus has (rightly) been directed to the failings of its mental health support systems. I imagine more than one person in the audience found themselves smiling in dark humour at various points. Romilly Browne's portrayal of the chirpily and sickly sweet therapist was a wonderful example of this, with her excellent performance eliciting chuckles of pained humor from the many students exposed to such idiotic euphemisms and faux camaraderie themselves.
It's difficult to point out any specific individuals when talking about the performances. All were excellent, and the four principal cast member's cycling narratives were brilliantly executed around a cassette player; the nostalgic device serving to elegantly underscore key emotional moments in the production. If one had to be picked, it would have to be Adam Parsons for his exceptional character work. For actors range is of paramount importance, but more difficult still is the ability to move between emotions rapidly and convincingly. In this Parsons excelled, making perhaps the most unbelievably tragic character (seriously, give the dude a break!) into a believably pathetic individual.
And now we come to the Hideo Kojima shaped elephant in the room. As my title indicates, there was a distinctly recognizable set of influences on the production, with the catchphrase of Kojima's excellent playable teaser for the sadly cancelled Silent Hills game being dropped verbatim. The bloody paper bag, several other key lines, and even the inclusion of the trailer song to Kojima's up-coming game Death Stranding all making an appearance in the play.
If we charitably choose to view these influence's inclusion as homages to the shared themes between the two works (and there are many), this might have passed without further comment. But I was left with a distinct feeling that the differences between the pieces didn't quite mesh in the way the directors hoped, leaving Aftershock with a distinctly uneasy feeling of displacement. Parallel Worlds created by guilt, and the mental worlds we inhabit within our own psyches may seem easy bedfellows for creating parallels, but without driving the comparison home more effectively, it becomes discordant. The gap in the door may well be a separate reality, Messrs Bird and Fink, but unless more carefully and deliberately explored in future it would seem that, for this writer at least, the only PT is definitely PT.