Fear

Tue 22nd – Sat 26th May 2012

reviews

Anca Farcas

at 08:24 on 23rd May 2012

2agrees

0disagrees

I feel compelled to start by saying that I have yet to make sense of tonight's show. It seems to play with such agonizing concepts as abysmal solitude, uncertainty, fear of an all-encompassing nothingness, the incapacity of words to truly portray our emotions, our complicated inner doubts and conflicts.

This ambitious production written by A. Gafter-O'Higgins in collaboration with B. Batelle definitely emanates existentialist anguish, self-loss and regain, however I am not sure to what extent it manages to really captivate the audience on its twisted journey. At the end of the performance, I almost thought it was just a short break and then it would resume and somehow its esoteric message would be spelled out clearly for me. Instead of feeling like I have just taken part in a refreshing confrontation with human weakness, it rather left a sobering impression of trying to convey emotions that cant really be shown but only written.

The minimalist style adopted, with the small stage of the Burton Taylor studio, decorated only with mirrors and two chairs, cleverly places the emphasis solely on the four characters. By far the most striking and colourful garnishing element was the woman's long train red dress, which symbolically perhaps sets her apart as the character defining the drama. However though, I think the role most artistically defined and mature was that of Leo, played by Lloyd Houston, whose gestures and body movement succeed in transmitting the struggle of just trying to cope with life without wanting to understand all its frustrating subtleties.

As mentioned on the poster, the short play contains two scenes of nudity, and although none in any sense tasteless, I can't grasp the artistic motivation behind the undressing of the Prophet moment. The second such scene though was by far the most touching of the show, when Leo leaves Nes (Rosa Bennathan) naked after removing all those outer layers, followed by the Prophet's appearance and his singing. This moment was delicate and skilfully directed, and fully compensated for the occasional lack in fluidity or potential obscure apocalyptic meanings. Another little gem of creativity was the closing fragment, when the man and woman are voluntarily trapped, tied together with rope in a game of embraces.

All in all, credit is due to the hard work invested in this student production, and now that I've seen it, it perhaps becomes clear to me that the script was too concentrated for a short play, it did not give the audience time to grow with and open up to it. However, "Fear" can be seen as a personal quest for meaning in life and it is definitely worth seeing it unfold before your own eyes.

agree
disagree

Gavin Elias

at 23:44 on 24th May 2012

2agrees

0disagrees

It would be remiss of me not to note from the outset that ‘Fear’ is a formidably ambitious work. An original production conceived and scripted by Oxford students B. Batelle and A. Gafter-O’Higgins and directed by Gafter-O’Higgins, the play tackles weighty themes such as existential dread, isolation and the limitations of language through the lens of an ailing relationship, and all by way of a highly enigmatic plot accented with bold imagery (including two counts of nudity). And while the end result is not entirely satisfying on an emotional level, it still constitutes an intelligent and indeed striking exploration of human anxiety.

The premise of the piece is hard to pin down, in large part because of the confusing and ambiguous way everything occurs. At least in terms of what unfolds on stage, the proceedings revolve around Nes (Rosa Bennathan) and Leo (Lloyd Houston), a couple struggling to cope with a terrible fear that is keeping them apart. They talk at length, musing about insecurities, dreams and the end of the world, before going to consult ‘the prophet’ (Batelle), a sort of dubious relationship counsellor who coaxes the pair into deeper, more painful sessions of introspection and mutual examination.

By and large, the acting works. Bennathan is fairly convincing as the tormented and doubt-riddled Nes, lending the part both a touching vulnerability and an aura of feverish desperation. Likewise, Houston provides a potent foil as the talkative Leo; by turns sarcastic and sincere, he gives perhaps the most well-rounded and nuanced performance of the cast. Batelle’s turn as the prophet is somewhat less engaging (perhaps in part due to the shallower nature of his character), but he does nail the eerie aspect of the role, wandering oddly about the stage and uttering profundities in a murmuring, seemingly stoned monotone.

It’s a highly conceptual play, to be sure, and one that is perhaps overly consumed with the abstruse themes it ruminates on over the course of its 55-minuteish run. On the one hand, the thing is admittedly well written, fluent, and chock-full of striking visuals. The problem, however, is it feels excessively intellectual, too bogged down in the minutiae of its ideas. For while the existential notion of nothingness, for instance, is certainly a captivating topic, I can’t help but think that the undue focus on it – to the point where the discourse at times feels less like a real human conversation than a Socratic dialogue – detracts from the characters themselves, burying some of the piece’s emotion in a torrent of intellectual abstraction. And by addressing its themes so explicitly, ‘Fear’ does, at times, fall into a trap of forced profundity; most themes are better tackled indirectly or incidentally, and something is lost by having the drama revolve around the underlying ideas rather than the other way around. It doesn’t help either that the audience never quite knows what is literal and what’s not, since while this dynamic undoubtedly lends a certain mystique (and perhaps heightened sense of metaphor) to the proceedings, it also blunts the impact of some of the more bizarre moments due to a lack of solid ground with which to compare them.

Still, the staging and direction work to great effect. The four enormous mirrors that frame the stage – by far the set’s most striking feature – perform a number of functions; not only do they further shrink the already intimate Burton Taylor stage, conveying the claustrophobic intensity of the characters’ interactions, but by encircling the actors also create an unnerving funhouse effect of repeated reflection, allowing each gesture and facial tic to effectively play out from multiple angles. More pragmatically, they also enable action to occur upstage and downstage simultaneously by enhancing visibility, giving the audience a sort of 360º vision. Sound effects and music are used cleverly too, if infrequently. The jarring screeching of strings that commences as Leo undresses Nes, for example, adds a visceral rawness to the act, as if it is layers of skin rather than clothing that are being peeled off.

Ultimately, ‘Fear’ is an impressive work – thought provoking, brazen, and patently original. And while it may not completely succeed at engaging the audience emotionally due to its overly esoteric plot, excessive intellectualism and occasionally on-the-nose themes, it nonetheless qualifies as an arresting, even imaginative, hour of theatre.

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Comments

William Winter; 27th May 2012; 20:03:03

I must admit, that when I left the theatre on Saturday evening, I was sure that I had missed something, yes there may be criticism, and yes the reviews above are correct with both the content and the way it was delivered. I have spent the last 24 hours thinking about this play, and the more I think about it the more that I appreciated how clever the writing of it was. In fact I think the writing was too clever for the production, it did need longer to develop the characters, just to get to understand what their fears were, and the relationships between them. The production as stated above was very thought provoking and I am still finding things in it. Congratulations to both the actors and the crew for what I now consider an excellent play

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