Shivered – Claudia Barrie and the industrial shrug (Theatre review)
Mad March Hare Theatre Company
Theatre isn’t real, at least it isn’t as real as real life is real. One of my favourite things about theatre (besides the unsettling intimacy which overwhelms in deliciously small spaces) is the transgressive act of performance. Real people pretending, without shame, in front of you, as if betraying the secret that we all perform for each other. The performance is reflected in me, and I in it and back and forth. It never ceases to shock me, and always excites me. So when theatre reflects what I don’t see, yet know to exist, there is a strange rational terror that takes place inside. This is the experience of watching Shivered, the current production by the wonderful Mad March Hare Theatre company currently showing at the PACT theater. Shivered isn’t surreal, but it heightens a world of response to stimuli that exists at our intuitive peripheral vision. Shivered is performed backwards through time. It is filled with violence in response to violence in the world. It is set in a decaying industrial scape that acts as both a hyper real talisman and scary structural cage for the towns psyche. It is a wild world of colour boxed into a white on white carton that confronts with a clarity no intellectual observation or critical blandness can contain. Shivered shocks.
Shivered is the story of real violence in its many incarnations being reflected back on suburbia in a variety of ways; You tube footage of war atrocities, use and abuse of the disabled, gossip, anger, and the death of industry. Sometimes the violence is off stage and pointing to real violence, and other times it is on simulated on stage, pointing towards its mirror of the real. For every vicious and cruel act perpetrated on a human, there is a dousing of fresh colour over the white washed walls. Real colour. Not blood, red. Not trees and money, green. Not sky and water, blue. In Ben Brockman’s brilliantly lit set, one cannot say that colour simply exists, but rather that in observing something coloured a whole series of perceptions arise which metamorphose into one another. A green after-image arises from red, or vice versa: a red after image from green. Everything is duplicating, distorting and re-imagining everything else, and at the heart of our peripheral knowing is the absorption and appropriation of violent behaviour and a cruelty to others.
While the hastily daubed and slap-dash appearance of the walls of the abandoned industrial space in which the action takes place might point toward the decay of all around it, the play explicitly and paradoxically refuses the blocks of colour imposed upon it through its insistence on decay, and yet the colour exists over the production, signposting the cohesion of narratives as well as a burgeoning desire beyond the simulated falsities of human development. If there is a missing component among the characters of Shivered, it is their ability to cope when the world becomes tragic, a strange problem given we know the world to be devoid of any compulsion toward individual happiness. We are tapped, caught, finally by colour, with our ability to self express stuck in Joyce’s melmelode jawr.
Shivered then, becomes one of those knotty theatrical experiences, I suspect reaching far beyond Philip Ridley’s vision through Claudia Barrie’s direction. While Ridley speaks about love, community and strength, they are shrouded in deception and the terrible damage we do to each other without knowing what pain we have inflicted. However, under Barrie’s direction, these ideas move into exaggerated proportions so that an acute sense of pain is expanded into the realms of human interactive love. No one is left untouched by the happenings on stage as structure, lighting and sound carry a profundity that extends far beyond the plays words.
Sound design is constructed by Jed Silver and production (set and lights) by Ben Brockman who exceeds even his own consistently reliable excellence with an imaginative approach that powerfully enhances the narrative trajectory of Ridley’s play. The set and its accoutrements provide some logistical challenges for the cast wich Barrie wisely faces and meets, refusing to compromise on the powerful vision for the sake of convenience. The audience sit around the raised, boxed set, at times as if we were watching a television, at others as if we were inside the box itself. It’s an enormously successful result that makes for thrilling theatre.
The cast is all strong, well-directed by Barrie and beautifully accent prepared by Emma Louise. Shivered can be an abstract vehicle, but the cast stay strong in their complicated roles, holding the audience awestruck until the last, tell-tale seconds of the play. Libby Flemming, Josh Anderson, Rhonda Doyl, Andrew Johnston, Brendan Miles, Liam Nunan and Joseph Del Re all equally carry the weight of the play representing the script with fidelity and passion for its message. Josh Anderson and Liam Nunan are particularly strong as young boys, friends who become enemies.
Shivered is a great play, and a fantastic addition to the 2015 season. It’s not a night for the squeamish as it deals graphically with upsetting themes, but it is equally not a show to be missed for its superb sound and production work and excellent direction by Claudia Barrie.