Black Mirrors

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 11:38 on 25th Aug 2011

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This devised piece by Wide Eyes Theatre Company opens with a half-naked man sat staring in silence - a silence that pervades this piece, a silence that allows for the nervous swallows of the actors to be audible, and a silence that makes the air dense with meaning and anticipation. Anticipation rules the life of this Sandhurst graduate as he contemplates how he would feel if, after years of training, he does not go to war. This piece is a unique and stunning take on what it is to be a modern soldier and an intimate study of an issue rarely discussed – whether these men are being trained for a job they’ll never get to undertake.

The script is honest, without any hint of cliché, presumably as a result of the interview research that went into the creation of this unexpected masterpiece, and is performed with perfect sincerity by an extraordinarily talented cast. The combination of the realist script and stylised physicality was a fusion of genius, making it beautifully poignant to watch, as well as visually powerful. Death and loss are sensitively explored with perception and intelligence and the cast capture a believable humanity in their performances that make this thought-provoking piece extremely accessible – in discussing how ‘cool’ it is to dress up and drink port, they remind us all of how young and how normal these soldiers are.

Stumbling sentences and self-corrections create natural dialogue and, coupled with prolonged silences, imply how difficult it can be to relate these experiences to outsiders. The emotional struggle they undergo is made visually apparent in Robert Taylor’s opening as his trembling hands fumble to fasten his shirt buttons. Whilst all the actors showcased incredible talent, they were even stronger as an ensemble, with the slick choreography of a well-oiled machine evoking notions of regimented platoon marches. The physicality was exceptionally polished and powerful - not a toe out of line. Timing was impeccable and so well rehearsed that no visual cues for unison movements were identifiable.

The outstanding direction of scene transitions perfectly integrated them into the piece so the flow was never broken by black-outs, and the simple but versatile set was ingeniously manoeuvred and creatively used. News footage layered over voices of interviewees created a moment of brilliance, reminding an audience that, even if the war in Afghanistan drops off of our television sets, there are still men out there and more waiting to go. It’s not over and that’s what makes this piece so astonishingly pertinent.

I do not feel that anything I say can do this piece justice. The company show incredible perception and are so well-researched you’re left wondering how these young people can seem to understand so much about a world that is so alien to most of us. I have been waiting my whole Festival for a piece like this, one that truly takes my breath away and forces me to wonder how they managed to create such a captivating, inspiring and utterly significant piece of theatre. These actors deserved a full house and a standing ovation and all I can do is urge you to spend an hour of your afternoon in their company, it might just make your Festival too.

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Helen Catt

at 12:27 on 25th Aug 2011

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“It hits you during dinner” the soldier tells us. The whole play is a build up to this dinner, as the actors fastidiously prepare their dress-clothes and relive their training.

It begins with a young man in his boxers under a single spotlight, looking out into the audience with almost unnerving intensity. It's the “thousand yard stare” of the weary soldier, uncannily reproduced. The static in the background is interspersed with broken news reports, and the young man seems to be waiting for something. It turns out he's waiting for us. As the audience, we're sitting in the interview seat, while he answers questions that we can't hear. It's a strange experience – instead of being observers, we are listening to a soldier talking to us honestly and personally as he answers the questions we wouldn't dare to ask.

The script was based on interviews taken with soldiers over three years, and the faithful rendering of these interviews, complete with telling pauses and hesitations, gives it an authenticity that is often amusing and sometimes utterly heart-wrenching. There is plenty of military jargon, as the character – who is played interchangeably by each of the four actors – talks about the pips on his number ones and about P.T. and Shining Parade. There is, at the beginning, a very laddish attitude to feelings, as they mention phoning “your parents or your girlfriend or whatever”, and reluctantly admit at their graduation from Sandhurst feeling “not really emotional – well, a little bit emotional”.

The four actors, Kate Duffy, Robert Taylor, Rebecca Joyce and Graeme Kelly, work in perfect unison. The synchronised motions are as tightly performed as an About Turn and everything is done with military precision. It gives the sense that “our soldier” whose story we're hearing is just one of the many who are going through these experiences. It's only occasionally, in moments of deep intensity, that there is just one person on stage, and then you realise that each soldier's experience is unique.

This is an incredible piece of theatre. It is impossible to convey in a review just how incredible it is. There is not a single moment that is not slick and polished and perfected, and the changes in emotional intensity are done so deftly that the moments of honesty unfailingly catch you off-guard. There is always the contrast of the external and internal struggles, of physical and emotional trauma. There have been many works that attempt to reveal the life of a soldier, but Black Mirrors stands clearly above the rest.

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