“with some editing and development could begin a really impactful conversation”
Created by Curtis Arnold-Harmer, ‘Asylum’ is a spoken word, live music production about immigration, patriotism and the refugee crisis. The piece weaves its way through three stories of people touched in very different ways by these issues. Alongside this we are taken on Curtis’ journey, engaging with these issues and creating this show about them.
Structurally there are some really strong elements to the piece. Periodically we are brought back again and again to the coffee shop in which Curtis is writing, as the customers around him change and the specificity of his setting is gradually subsumed. One of the strongest moments of the piece is the climactic poetic moment that comes only part way through. It is a moment of pace and energy that showcases Curtis’ clear writing and performance ability. As this is clearly in his arsenal, I would’ve liked to have seen more of these moments as Asylum gradually becomes more story-telling than spoken word poetry. It is also overly long, which means the message is continually repeated, the result of which is dilution. The need to extend to occupy a whole hour is to the detriment of its impact. The section where our writer is ‘burning’ as he creates feels out of place, and the performance cannot commit to prioritising the voices of others or of the writer himself leaving us stuck somewhere in between.
Alongside the poetry, Curtis creates soundscapes, a coffee shop, rain against the windows. His words are also accompanied by a constant and changing beat that throbs beneath them. He operates this himself from the stage and it is exciting to see what is usually backstage visually, although the projector could’ve been used more as a note of variety to this. The beat musical could also be more varied, as it doesn’t always relate to the rises, falls and pace changes of the words. Whilst this is not always necessary, it could be used more with strong effect.
The lighting design is really successful, contained to Curtis’ unmoving space on stage, then at moments flashing out across the audience, laying us bare, suddenly visible to those around us, suddenly complicit in these narratives.
Curtis combines sound and poetry to create an engaging and topical piece of theatre, that with some editing and development could begin a really impactful conversation.
“a rebalancing and proportioning of the content would heighten the clarity and impact of the message”
Written and performed by Michael Faulkner and Joshua Poole, alias ‘Seventy30’, ‘Did It Hurt?’ addresses the issues of male mental health, suicide and the deep-rooted stigma around emotional expression, admission and reaching out. Two strangers find themselves locked in a dark room together. With nowhere to go and no one else to talk to they are forced to get to know each other and eventually reveal secrets and truths. Gradually the layers of suppression peel away and they discover the relief of communication.
This debut production has a well-structured storyline and a clever twist near the end, but a rebalancing and proportioning of the content would heighten the clarity and impact of the message. The first part emphasises the social backgrounds of the characters, but the conversation relies heavily on stereotypical references and differences and leans more towards a comment on class distinction. Listening to their stories, we begin to connect with Jean (Poole) and Paul (Faulkner) as they draw out each other’s pasts with mockery, humour and ocassionally aggression. Their lives have a certain poignancy but as individuals they come across as representatives of a social system rather than defined characters, which undermines our emotional reaction. Both actors give good if slightly underplayed performances, relying more on the script than interpretation to create their contrasting personalities.
Kathryn King, brings an added audio dimension to an otherwise simple approach to the direction. Music and sound (uncredited) spontaneously project inner thoughts and memories into the narrative, as an impulse for further discussions and confessions. We feel a few moments of tension as the situation develops but a more varied pace would intensify the dynamics of this claustrophobic situation. There is some thoughtful detail in the uncomplicated set, the significance of which becomes progressively apparent.
It is a challenge to choose such a sensitive subject and any initiative and creativity by young artists like this should be supported and encouraged. Although ‘Did It Hurt?’ does not fully succeed in offering the powerful or revelatory insight it proposes, as a piece of theatre it is original, well executed and engaging.