The dramatic opening of lights out/pitch black, certainly grabs the attention. There is silence as we sit and wait in the darkness, a heightened awareness that there is danger ahead.
When the lights go up, a simple area of performance space is before us, a blank canvas that indeed the girl before us is using as such. As she spray paints her artwork, the chorus arrive dressed in white, mirroring the clean and unused walls of the set. It is upon these blank walls and personas that the story is projected. Never have I seen such utilisation of a performance space. With Robert Shaw Cameron’s vision and Emily Hubert’s production the cast create multiple roles in a a variety of settings with perfectly choreographed movement, using the most basic of props and even portraying inanimate objects with their own bodies (the human wardrobe was a favourite).
Written by Silvia Semerciyan, and American playwright living in the U.K, the imagining is very authentic and the characters are structured to conjure every stereo typical image the world has of ‘small town’ Americans. The bible beating community, the new age religions, the angst ridden teenager from a broken home, the lecherous older man taking advantage where he should be supporting; and guns, lots of guns. An intoxicating list of ingredients for any drama, and so real in comparison to the blue print we know that has created so many tragic stories that end in violence. The starkness of the set brings focus on the issues that unfold.
The underlying theme of the story is how this combination of incendiary factors can lead to the deconstruction and destruction of faith, family life, and life itself. The lead character Aimee, is pitched perfectly by Chloe Harris. Her ability to portray a teen that is vulnerable, talented, misunderstood, rebellious and confused is remarkable. We can almost witness the hormonal overdrive develop that drives the girl, on the verge of womanhood, feeling the isolation of being different and outcast, to commit a heinous crime. Chloe Harris captures the embodiment of misunderstood and misrepresented teen superbly and is complemented by the frustrated and strung out mother, Stephanie Schonfield. Stephanie’s performance is heart-breaking, realistic and moving. This family are enduring what a lot of families endure, but Semerciyan is trying to find what the spark is that lights the flame to the explosion of the cataclysmic events to come.
The supporting cast slip into a multitude of characters like they would change outfits. The blank persona that they begin with, is the perfect canvas to project a multitude of character images. The versatility of these actors is astounding. David Michaels is outstanding as he plays Aimee’s father, and also the character of Randy, her mother’s partner, Aimee’s mentor and ultimately her lover. The intimacy of all of these roles played by the same person brings to mind how they could be blurred into one by a troubled teen.
The supporting cast are magnificent, flipping in and out of the story in various guises, giving vital characterisation and moving the plot along by witnessing events through many different viewpoints.
Chereen Buckley gives a warmth and serenity to her characters but also represents doubt and a divided conciousness. She shows the very fine line between saving somebody’s soul and saving their life. Charlotte Melia and Killian Mcardle between them do an incredible job of representing the rest of the town and how the tragic events effect the local citizens, and how it is recorded and related to the rest of the world.
Through the culmination of information from so many sources we are prepared for what we are all too familiar with in modern American life. In these dark days of school shootings, which we never get accustomed to, the scene of the actual shooting is still shocking and thought provoking. Having heard the event described by so many different characters, gives a sense that everybody feels partly responsible when these tragedies occur. A bold statement and a bold production. The minimal physical set and costume enables the power of the words and imagery to dominate. Fantastically written, amazingly staged and powerfully performed. ‘I and the Village’ is a must see.
Review by Rachel Borland
Emily Hubert, The Forum London and Theatre503 present… I And The Village by Silva Semerciyan
9 June – 4 July, Tuesday – Saturday 7.45pm (Saturday 27 June and 4 July Matinee 3pm, Sundays 5pm)
“So maybe I just want to opt out you know? Maybe I don’t want to be part of the master plan. The big assembly line in the sky”
Summer in small town America. Aimee Stright wants to be Banksy in a town that hates vandals. As outsiders investigate what happened on the day she walked into a church with a gun, it seems Aimee is one against the world and the world wants to know why.
Shortlisted for the Bruntwood Playwriting Prize, I and The Village is a coming of age story that asks pointed questions about conformity, dissent and America’s devotion to guns. Award winning playwright Silva Semerciyan (Gather Ye Rosebuds) and director Robert Shaw Cameron (Birmingham REP & Sheffield Crucible) team up with The Forum London and producer Emily Hubert to present this exceptional world premiere.