Guest review by Tom Ward
Set on death row in America, Pharmacy Theatre adapts Rene Denfeld’s novel The Enchanted for the stage. Exploring the nature of ‘evil, punishment, clemency and redemption’, the creative team present a show that would demonstrate potential if it hadn’t had a year to develop since its premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016.
Let’s start with the show’s most interesting image. Jacob Lucy presents a set that is rich in condensed imagery and effective in its ambiguity. Pure white, the playing area sits underneath a suspended box. Shining a Wertenbaker-esque square upon the floor, the brilliant light immediately denotes the confines of space and places us in a prison cell. The characters’ desire to experience sensation but not entirely to obtain freedom is reflected in the withered branches that outwards. Nature, desire and the imagination cannot be contained by the prison system. Death is a brutal shadow cutting through his own image – a noose hangs menacingly on the side of the stage. Here Lucy sets up the preeminent themes of the play with images that entice the audience to investigate their meaning. We are hooked. Unfortunately, this intrigue does not last long.
The first thing to note here is that we just don’t care about any of the characters and their driving forces, mostly due to the cast’s wooden performances that are inhibited by some questionable American accents. While this normally wouldn’t be a problem, the death penalty is only in effect in very specific places in America, and the mishmash of dialects disturbs the play’s geographical placement. As a result, the cast are tonally restricted and therefore unable to portray the emotion that can elicit the empathy required from the audience, crucial to a play that explores these kinds of themes.
Emily Orme’s movement direction has some slick moments however. The cast sweep onto the stage and disperse in different combinations that transition the text between space and time, but also add emotional embodiment to the play’s subtext. The execution of these aren’t committed to though, which leave some moments feeling performed and inorganic. The play doesn’t feel dangerous enough; everything needs to be pushed to its limit, but here it feels very safe. For example, Georgina Morton’s Girl is dressed very conservatively for a sixteen-year-old exotic dancer and prostitute. Her sex scene with the Fallen Priest (Jack Staddon) is short and sweet. And that is the problem. Rough the scene up and elongate the time Girl’s blank stare penetrates the audience and this has really harrowing potential.
Joanna and Connie Treves develop a strong text that is easy to follow, which lends itself nicely to the experimental form that Pharmacy Theatre are driving towards. But all in all, The Enchanted makes the cardinal sin of being so unengaging that not even its climaxes could redeem it.
Director: Connie Treves; Emily Orme (movement)
Composer/ Musical Director: David McFarlane
Producer: Lee McClellan
Writer: Rene Denfeld
Adaptor: Joanna Treves; Connie Treves
Design: Jacob Lucy; Gregory Jordan (lighting)
Cast: Corey Montague-Sholay; Jade Ogugua; Hunter Bishop; Georgina Morton; Jack Staddon; Liam Harkins
Images courtesy of Dina T
The Enchanted plays until 17 June 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.