The Activist

Thu 17th – Sat 19th November 2011

reviews

Dave Watson

at 23:25 on 17th Nov 2011

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The Activist is a play based on Euripedes’ Medea, and follows four environmental terrorists as they struggle to deal with betrayal, paranoia and insanity. The whole play takes place in the kitchen that the characters are hiding out in. The small, underground room in Brasenose annex, where the play was held, added to the feeling of secrecy and intimacy that existed between the characters.

The first act took a while to get going. The fast-paced banter of Freddy (Richard O’Brien) kept it moving, and provided some light laughs to an overall dramatic and unsettling play. However, there was an overall confusion of what was actually going on, which left many of the audience during the interval asking exactly that.

However, any confusion from the first act was cleared up in the second. The audiences’ understanding of the situation mirrored that of the characters within the play, as the plot and betrayals unraveled. As this was such an integral part of the play I won’t risk giving anything away to the people still to see it.

The writing was excellent, switching from back and forth dialogue to gruesomely beautiful monologues, “He wants to roll my eyes in his hands, he wants to squeeze my heart…He wants the best for me.” This was complimented by the very high-level of acting, specifically from Adele (Nouran Koriem) and Mikhail (William Davies). Adele’s pained and gruesome monologues provided some of the most unnerving, yet stunning, moments in the play, and Mikhail was engaging and exciting to watch.

Some of the scenes and monologues dragged on, and minor reductions would have increased their effectiveness and the overall pace of the play. The technical production was seamless, and fairly minimal props were used to good effect.

The Activist was in many ways a very weird play, but wonderfully so. Never before have I seen a play that so fluidly combines the gruesome and the beautiful, the heart-wrenchingly emotional and darkly comedic. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m sure a few people left still confused as to what just happened, but the overall excellent level of writing, acting and production can be appreciated, even if you’re wary of the ‘weird’.

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Victoria Weavil

at 08:57 on 18th Nov 2011

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Loosely based on Euripides’ ‘Medea’ – a tale of revenge wreaked by a woman scorned – ‘The Activist’ is nothing if not enigmatic.

On the surface, the production follows the lives of a group of embittered environmentalists as they confront the thorny issues of betrayal within the ranks and an invasive sense of lost purpose. Yet if this does eventually become apparent, it is by no means clear from the start. The play is billed as one “not for the faint-hearted”. And this is certainly no easy ride. For deftly interweaving outbursts of rage with asides in verse, clever linguistic games, and a series of mysterious allusions to code-words and long-unexplained projects, ‘The Activist’ seems to almost delight in slowly meandering around the side-lines of any real plot. And indeed if it weren’t for Natalie’s intermittent monologues – in which we are finally treated to a few crucial snippets of actual information – audiences may well find themselves just as confused as the characters themselves.

And yet if the plot does seem to be forever hovering just out of reach, perhaps this is precisely the point. For the real message behind this story reaches far deeper than the daily ups and downs of this strange mishmash of disenchanted green ‘terrorists’: This is a story of revenge, and of the extremities to which love - and betrayal - can drive us.

As the mysterious, darkly passionate Adele, Nouran Koriem does a stellar job at conveying the full force of this emotional anguish. An equally successful performance is delivered by Richard O’Brien as the neurotic, agonisingly edgy Freddy who although lost for the most part in a dreamlike world of his own - filled with endless ramblings into the weird and wonderful world of language - his description of Alka-Seltzer as “a cloud of buzzling metal bumble bees” filling your mouth with “the feel of bees a’buzzing” is a particularly memorable example – at times offers a uniquely shrewd voice amidst the madness. As with the production in general, there is certainly more to this incongruous character, a strange mishmash of childish innocence and adult neuroses, than first meets the eye…

Bolstered by a clever use of atmospheric lighting and snatches of eerie music serving to punctuate the unnerving atmosphere of it all, the crypt-like Frewin Undercroft provides the ideal setting to this dense narrative of stifling emotions and vengeful passion.

And so despite its fragmentary narrative and at times vexing refusal to provide any real, much-needed information as to what is really going on in this strange, chaotic world, the production is certainly not without charm. All in all I felt the disjointed narrative ran the risk of detracting from the overall quality of the production, but this was narrowly averted by some fine acting, convincing dialogue, and a highly original overall concept.

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