No, this is not a firm of solicitors, but two new separate work-in-progress productions from Elvin Acting Theatre Company.
In the order as performed:
This piece, by William J. Jesmond de Clermont, is a fantasy set in the afterlife, or a sort of waiting room for it, where Grim (named for the Reaper), a sort of black-clad, very sarcastic angel, played exquisitely here by Charlotte Hobbs, has been put on suicide watch.
Not the kind they do in prisons and psych wards; not to prevent people from doing themselves in, but to welcome them, if that’s right word, to the afterlife after they’ve done it.
This part of the examination of what may or may not motivate suicides is done with unsparing, biting wit by Grim, in her interchanges with one who couldn’t cope with his marriage break-up, and one who was deceased in a very embarrassing auto-erotic encounter with a vacuum cleaner.
It has humour, and pathos, and occasional expertly choreographed dance/movement sequences which are fun to watch, but a tad puzzling as to why they are there.
Then appears Stella, who behaves like a sort of stage clairvoyant (though Grim always hovers silently in the background, sucking on a lolly), conjuring people to come from the audience (actors, not audience members) and speaks with more sympathy with them than Grim does.
It’s not clear whether she’s in the afterlife talking to the dead, or here and now talking to the living; but she is encouraging to us that we recognise the right of people to end their life, and to respect that; and to her clients onstage reassuring, finally telling them not to worry, for she “will always be with them.”
Is she God, then? Dunno. In the end, this is a visually and aurally striking piece, with clever technical effects, convincing acting, and impressive sound and music. And those dance sequences.
But the theatrical throughlines are a tad confused, and whether it says anything new about suicide is very much left open, possibly deliberately.
This piece, devised by the company, has some of the drawbacks of that way of working. Billed as “a journey through personal choice and a search for who has control of our fate” it is a series of random and sometimes seemingly unconnected vignettes, well-rehearsed and full of energy, with stacks more of those tightly-executed dance sequences.
There’s a sort of game show host, though no actual game show, and he gets audience members to spin a wheel to decide successively between 4 titles, referring to parts of the show. Presumably because it doesn’t matter in what order they are performed.
There are songs, there is a passionate advocating of the reasons for Brexit, there’s a sequence where a man describes his day, interrupted frequently by a buzzer indicating he’s made a wrong choice; there is, in fact, a great deal of action in a sort of Dada-esque barrage of admittedly well-rehearsed and slickly put-over images, culminating in all but one of the cast ending up in a cage, to symbolise how we are all hidebound by convention and need to break out and be ourselves. Hardly a new or controversial point.
Clearly, a lot of work has gone into this, and this is a company not without considerable talent; but when devising a show it might be productive to spend a little less time thinking about what it would be really interesting for you to do, and a little more on what it would be engaging for an audience to see. Just saying.
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Reviewer: John Christopher Wood
Bear Pit & Void, presented by the Elvin Acting Theatre Company, was performed at the Rondo Theatre in Bath on Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th July 2019.