Scrublands is one of 22 'i Likes' highlights in the Brighton Fringe 2012 programme, selected by 'i' and David Lister, Arts Editor at The Independent.
Blank Productions current work in progress is a project called ‘Scrubland’.
The company website and description of the project appealed to the inner devised theatre practitioner and creative writer within me.
So, off I went, in and down the dark spiral stairway of The Old Police Museum to ‘Scrubland’.
On my way home after the performance I thought it a nice a welcomed change in venue for sure. But, I was left thinking.
Yes, ’Scrublands’ was an experience, but, just how welcomed was it? I was still unsure.
It would take me a few hours of thinking it over once home before I could really put my thoughts down.
I was starting to feel increasingly unsure about the idea of descending the stair ways to an uncertain (but of course, dark) space. As we waited to be lead down stairs by our guide I opened the small envelope given to me at the door to take my mind of the impending anxiety and claustrophobic feelings heading my way.
We were led down the winding steps to a dark performance space by our female guide Kathryn Mcgarr.
Audience members shuffled in and (like me) anxiously looked around as the female guide closed the door behind. Amongst the gentle murmurs of anticipation and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness a short figure was revealed (to those who could see) loitering in the shadows.
A beautiful, yet surprising string section began to play the very filmic soundscore which was now resonating around the whole space.
Now trapped the audience (uncomfortably) settled in to what was to be the beginning of a (long) and (sometimes) enjoyable ninety minute monologue.
What was welcomed about it then?
The fact as part of the audience you were aware that you were, whether you liked it or not, part of this performance. At the same time you were invited in as an individual to immerse yourself in the intentions of the piece. The themes buried in the words' entrapment, growing frustrations, a longing to get out and get back to ‘normality’ resonated throughout the piece.
How did Blank Productions do this? They achieved what I believe to be their intentions of the piece with a strong coherent use of aesthetics, the risk taken by the use of such heavy language and the beautifully composed soundscore by the Bergersen Quartet and a very talented Peter Copley.
What was not so welcomed?
The use of (unseen) projections to those who were stood in awkward places, these projections were either blocked by the shelves, people or the joining walls. I am sure Tom Walker and Marco Crivello’s visual aims had been completely justified during the devising of this process, unfortunately in practice and once in the space, only became a distraction from the lengthy and complex monologue.
A suggestion could well be to project onto the white tiled walls surrounding the audience, facing the audience rather than the string section.
Because of these distractions, The Protagonist’s words muttered, shouted and sometimes mumbled were lost. Whatever narrative was being understood (before distraction) were therefore lost instantly and became not more than a jumble of wonderfully random words and vivid poetic sentences.
Though (at times) wonderfully written by Mark C. Hewitt, the delivery could well have benefited from a much more varied tone and imagination from the performer.
Mark C. Hewitt occasionally used the repetition of sentences as a device to create and gradually build the Protagonist’s lengthy ‘26 movements’. The use of this device reminded me of devised theatre from a university company rather than that of a well experienced, Arts Council and Lottery funded creative.
In places, the language was grotesque, playful and funny. In places the monologue became monotone, too complex and (at times) unconvincingly delivered. Rather more gusto, attack and performance technique may have helped with the overall delivery of these well written words.
For all of the above criticisms I MUST make clear ‘Scrublands’ is a work in progress. The vision of a team mixing their experiences and skills into one piece. This is where it seemed to lose its way. When it was lost, the narrative was to suffer. However subtly helped by fantastically surreal sketches and scribbling of what could only be interpreted as that of a mad man gave the piece a (VERY) loose narrative via flip chart pages.
The filmic music complimented the piece exceptionally well and should it have been the soundscore of a feature film, would be well deserved of an award. Without it the piece would have been rather flat.
If I too were wearing a large black rimmed cap I would tip it to Mr M.C Hewitt who played the ‘Protagonist‘. What a wonderfully complex character to play and a multitude of verbal complexities to spit out.
Due to the sheer amount of complex language to have been learnt and spoken, we must forgive the odd stutter and pause. I only wish he could have put more diversity into his delivery.
The performance space (the cells) lent itself perfectly to the LIVE string quartet (discreetly hidden in the side cellar) as well as the subtle up lighting by torches set on the floor.
Overseen by Jeremy Stokwell I would recommend this performance to anyone at a loose end wo fancies immersing themselves in the emotive language and in an experience you can only understand from seeing it.
Well done all involved.
Reviewed by Richard Staplehurst 8th May 2012