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Sketty Productions presents

FERAL

 

Written and Directed by Toby Clarke

 

New Wimbledon Studio

 

7 – 24 Oct 09

 


 

 

 

 

ry Couzens

A review by Amrita Chatterjee for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Of all things theatre, one that is universally fascinating and enduring in its charm is perhaps the black box, the touchstone for any modern theatre practitioner, an empty expanse of space subsumed in darkness. Peter Brook once famously said, “A man walks across an empty space, whilst someone else is watching him and this is all I need for an act of theatre to be engaged.” And Toby Clarke’s new play Feral is indeed a fine example of such an engagement. As we walk into the theatre we are immediately confronted by this black space inhabited by Matthew, a young man suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, a behavioural disorder leading to difficulties in one’s social interactions. It is a general misconception that such people want to live alone, but in reality they are just like everyone else, they just lack the skills to establish and maintain any social relationships. Also due to all the time they spend alone, they often develop a keen interest in very narrow or specialized fields, almost to the point of obsession, which in Matthew’s case are cats. Feral tries to understand the loneliness, both literal and metaphorical, that threatens to take over Matthew in the form of a cat and how he attempts to fight it and seek companionship from others in his own awkward, disjointed way.

Feral is truly an ensemble piece, in fact the first thing that struck me while watching the performance was its sheer fluidity. The acting, writing, light, music, everything seemed to ebb and flow together in perfect harmony. It is evident that this is a production by a company that has perfected the dynamics of working together and where the creative impulse and direction is nurtured by the group together as one. But nevertheless, credit should be given to writer/director Toby Clarke for crafting the troubled world of Matthew with such stark simplicity and innovative visual narration.

Alex Clarke puts in a great performance as Matthew, it almost seems like the role was written for him. He switches from the dramatic to the naturalistic with commendable ease and is perfectly endearing, yet precariously sinister as the cat. Dani Machancoses is also brilliant as Sebastian, the art teacher and forms the perfect catalyst against which the hysteria and confusion within Matthew’s mind can be played out. There is excellent chemistry between the two actors, the dialogues are wonderfully paced, and the long dramatic pauses speak more eloquently than the actual words.

The lighting design by Pablo Fernandez-Baz fluctuates between the surreal and the dimly lit, with bare light bulb interiors creating distinct performance spaces without the use of furniture or props. Rupert Cross and Luca Nasciuti provide an effective background score that heightens the poetic quality of the physical choreography. And puppet design by Maureen Freedman fits in perfectly with the overall understated style of the play.

However, in terms of the writing itself I would say that it falls short of being truly exceptional and there is a certain lack of depth within the story and the characters. The images of Matthew struggling with himself and his assumed identity of a cat are certainly the focal points of the play and are brought out beautifully by the use of puppetry and physical choreography. The puppeteers Lowri James and Sara Kirkpatrick are exceptional, they are the embodiment of feline grace and the credit for that should perhaps go to Zoë Cobb, the movement director.

But it’s a real shame that the play gets primarily fixated with these images and does not progress further with the relationship between Sebastian and Matthew, which has great potential. Also arguably, as Matthew’s condition digresses from Asperger’s into a darker delusional manifestation of a schizoid personality, it hardly comes across as a celebration of himself or his condition, as the programme states. The ending of the play leaves the audience with perhaps an even greater sense of melancholia and desperation than the beginning.

Thus I would say that as a piece of theatre I enjoyed watching Feral thoroughly, it is poignant, lyrical, touchingly funny and conveys a heart-warming sense of vulnerability. It gives us a faithful insight into the life of a person suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, but it also sadly reaffirms the fact that their world will always be described in words such as empty, dark and lonely.

 

 

Box office phone number: 0844 871 7646

Theatre website: http://www.ambassadortickets.com/Wimbledon/What's-On

Tickets: £12 (conc £10)

Monday – Saturdays - 7.45pm; Saturday matinees – 3.00pm (no Sunday performances)

New Wimbledon Studio, London, SW19 1QG

1hr 10 mins

 

 

 

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