Awake

Wed 12th – Thu 13th October 2011

reviews

Rhiannon Kelly

at 03:17 on 13th Oct 2011

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Illness is always a difficult subject to explore, and ‘Awake’ tackles this broad theme with energy and enthusiasm; combining music, song, physical theatre, narrative and even circus skills to create a real feast for the senses. ‘Awake’ is also an attempt to explore deeper issues, and we see glimpses into the real emotional intensity of contracting a terminal illness.

The play centres on Max: a fit, accomplished Chief Executive and soon-to-be father, who has contracted an illness, but doesn’t know how to tell his wife and friends. From this basic premise we are plunged into Max’s mental state, as the play fluctuates between the party and varying fragments of his mind, depicting wider issues of health, harmony and the ultimate message that “a man should never know the date of his death”.

Intense physicality is contrasted with Max’s controlled speech, which emphasises the dichotomy between what his body is doing to him and what he wants to say. As the multi-skilled performers seamlessly jump around the stage, play instruments, sing, and even acrobatically throw themselves into the air on a rope and pulley mechanism, it is impossible not to get swept up into the eclectic kaleidoscope of vignettes that they create. However, I did feel that this sometimes superseded the message of the play, and the elaborate movement sequences, despite being highly skilled and beautifully presented, occasionally felt gratuitous.

Director, Christopher Sivertsen, has been influenced by a multitude of resources: from Rachmanioff to Buddhist warrior poses, from ropes and pulleys to electronic music. This wealth of research is integral to such an epic performance, but I felt that the production was trying to pack in too much. The continuous oscillation between the highly physical and highly emotional (whilst obviously not mutually exclusive) was occasionally jarring, and detracted from the poignancy behind the real life situation. Max addresses philosophical questions about the nature of health and life, but I felt that this often slipped into cliché, and the self-conscious transitions between the ensemble work to his spot-lit soliloquies came across as contrived. His speeches lacked the subtlety required in engaging with such a deeply resonating subject matter, and while the emotional intensity was certainly present in aspects of the production; I would like to see the cast delve deeper into the issue of illness, as I think that there is still a lot more to explore.

‘Awake Project’ are an undeniably talented ensemble. Their choral singing is beautiful, their physicality impeccable and the narrative touching, but the components are still a bit confused to come together as a cohesive whole. I had a lot of fun watching ‘Awake’, but with all its vigour and bravado, I wasn’t sure what it was exactly trying to say. The production is bold, ambitious and exciting, but I feel it needs to push the questions of health, harmony and hunger further for it to be a truly moving affair.

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Josephine Mitchell

at 09:23 on 13th Oct 2011

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Meet Max, a man with a heavy burden. He knows too much and can’t escape from this knowledge. We follow him as he attempts to rationalise his fate in an irrational world.

Christopher Sivertsen’s new play, ‘Awake’, tackles the ambitious themes of death and the grieving process as it follows Max in his attempts to desperately understand the countdown placed on his life. The play incorporates a dynamic fusion of music, movement, and dance to explore the dark reaches of the psyche, in a narrative that wheels frantically through the consciousness. Sivertsen’s direction demonstrates a deep understanding of the potential of body, music and movement, but more importantly manages to weave these features together to achieve a whole which is far more than the sum of its parts.

The play moves chaotically through the disorienting world of human psychology, delving into the imaginary. We are led masterfully through a psychotic dreamscape, where acrobats wheel around the North Wall Arts Centre on pulleys accompanied by live cello music. Nevertheless this sense of anarchy is hardly fortuitous, but has clearly been meticulously developed. The excellent ensemble interact seamlessly to unite what might otherwise have been a somewhat disconnected whole.

The energy of the group drives us through a series of fragmentary and surreal scenes that continuously circle closer to the central theme. We are all mortal. We all have to deal with the certainty of our own death. Luckily, unlike Max, most of us do not receive detailed information about the imminent arrival of that moment. His time is running out and his emotional crisis sets the scene for a chaotic journey through the subconscious. Through the fractured cyclic narrative, we explore the torment of a man whose time is ticking away. Oliviero Papi, as Max, is thrown into encounters and social situations as he desperately tries to make sense of his fate. Yet, still finds the time to provide moments of dark clarity with his portrayal of the tortured protagonist.

Innovation is the word of the night as Swedish-based international ensemble, Awake Project, evoke the ancient traditions of Eastern European theatre develop the story. Think Buddhist warrior poses, think polyphonic vocals, think creative acrobatics. Importantly, these ancient foundations are expertly projected onto a thoroughly contemporary theme, which is always fresh and surprising.

Yet, for all the climactic imagery, and energetic dialogue, the emotive moment of resolution never quite arrives. The climactic build-up as the various motifs are recycled draws the audience expectantly and yet the moment of emotional connection is never quite fulfilled and the audience is left waiting for the promised emotive punch.

Nevertheless, Awake is an intensive experience, masterfully woven together with a constantly evolving narrative as skilful as it is surprising. Awake forces us to face some disturbing truths about human mortality but does so with a freshness and vitality which serves as an awakening to the individual, to live life and make the most of the moment.

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