Friday, 6 June 2014

RAW: "The Alpha Effect" All Male Movement Theatre Exeter Northcott Theatre Saturday 7 June 2014

The Alpha Effect
Prisoners' Lives recreated in movement drama
Front: Sam Ward, Alex Mancuso, Tom Durden
Back: Harry Kingscott, Sydney Robertson

March-Past - an exercise in synchronised movement
Front: Tom Durden & Michael Reece
Back: Ben GilbertSam Ward,
Alex MancusoHarry Kingscott,
Sydney RobertsonDaniel McNeill
On Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago (20 May), an unexpected masterpiece of student theatre stunned audiences at the University's Alexander Building. Dan McNeill, Harry Kingscott and Ben Gilbert had drawn together a cast of 'movement guys' and, over a brief rehearsal period of just six weeks, created a devastating portrayal of prison life, in movement.

For just £1 admission per head, the audience filed into the small studio space. The prospect was intriguing - a depiction of prison life, without words.

Starting from darkness, the scene was illuminated by harsh spotlights, immediately suggesting confinement and surveillance. The eight performers, in vests and track-suit bottoms were initially static, but then began to march.

Wild emotions expressed in movement
Tom Durdon and Michael Reece look on in disbelief
With institutional precision, two actors would escort a third, switching partners each time they encountered a new group, creating a bewildering dance. This initial sequence trains the eye for the complex combinations of movement and dance to follow. The actors perform individually, in pairs and as an ensemble, creating a feast of visual stimuli that drowns the senses.

The sequences are incredibly complex, clearly involving exhaustive preparation, and are also physically exhausting. Each performer is soon bathed in perspiration and flushed with exertion - and emotion. On the rare occasions when one or two step back to become observers, they are clearly breathless and only slowly recovering.

As night falls
each pair of cell-mates engage in intense dance
Not a word is spoken. To the background of insistent music, the team build a complex story through the expression and interaction of their bodies. The themes of anger, frustration and despair can be seen to resurface throughout the piece. Also there are some set-pieces expressing ambiguous events and experiences.

Sometimes two characters seem to be expressing love for each other, clearly uncertain, and confused by the inescapable suggestion of enforced limitation to homo-eroticism. Alongside, and interwoven, is the overarching theme of conflict and aggression. Tenderness turns to violence recalling the hair-trigger responses of wild animals encroaching on each other's territory.

As dawn breaks
the inmates bewail their fate once more
The lighting crew brilliantly reproduce the experience of lock-down, as the stage is broken up into isolated squares of light, one for each prisoner. Within their cells, the men beat their fists against the floor and walls, clamouring for liberty, and act out their anguish so movingly it seems a whole unbearable night has passed before they are released again.

This performance is short - less than an hour - but so intense that the cast and audience are left drained at the end. "The Alpha Effect" is a total, and frighteningly real, immersion in an alien experience, which allows no respite until the final chord. Even after the action stops, the energy fills the room delaying any return to the more mundane concerns of life outside.

This extraordinary work, with all the preparation and energy that goes into it, will only run to three performances. The second was on the evening of Thursday 20th May. The third will be this Saturday evening (7th June) at Exeter Northcott Theatre (Exeter University Streatham Campus).

"The Alpha Effect" will be performed as part of "RAW: An Emerging Theatre-Makers' Platform", which starts at 7pm on Saturday in the Northcott Theatre. The show will open with two other pieces, "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother" (an account of anorexia, as seen through the eyes of a sufferer's son) and "Blink" (an exploration in dance, of the effects of a breakdown in the relationship between mind and body). The evening will end with the third and final performance of "The Alpha Effect".

Tickets and information, as always are available from the Northcott Box Office which opens every day at 10am (and is also open for an hour before each performance). The box office staff take calls on 01392 493493 and bookings can be made online through the Northcott Website.

See the end of this post for full details.

Congratulations to the team for a masterpiece of masculine expression, generously crafted, and impressively successful in what it aims to express. The team of students head their separate ways after this, but we will surely be hearing more of all of them before very long.

Chained and captive within four walls
Centre: Ben Gilbert
Love and tenderness
(Sam Ward & Tom Durden, Michael Reece)
give way to violence
(Tom Durden & Ben Gilbert)
The suffering of one is felt by all
The Cast of "The Alpha Effect" -
Sam Ward, Sydney RobertsonHarry KingscottBen Gilbert,

Tom Durden, Alex MancusoMichael Reece, Daniel McNeill
-acknowledge their technical crew

RAW: Emerging Arts Platform
The Alpha Effect
Harry Kingscott
Ben Gilbert, Sam Ward
(Photo: Victoria Fullick)

Exeter Northcott Theatre
Saturday 7 June 7pm
"She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother"
A young man's experience of
his mother's anorexia
An exploration in dance, of the
isolation of the mind from the body
"The Alpha Effect"
Eight men share the experience of
life in a men's prison
Tickets: £7
(2x £13, 3x £18, 4x £22, 5x £25)
Box Office: 01392 493493
Book Online
"The Alpha Effect" Facebook Page

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