Don't Let Go

Sat 2nd – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Henry Holmes

at 20:54 on 3rd Aug 2014

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It is rare to find a show that completely flummoxes an audience. In the beautiful Bedlam Theatre, Manic Chord Theatre uses a combination of puppetry, an elegantly designed set and specially composed music, to perform a beautiful devised physical theatre piece with a period atmosphere reminiscent of Orwell and even Monty Python in its more light-hearted moments.

Through discussions of coffee, the stars and the immorality of gardening, we meet the deranged factory owner (Alex Monk), his starry-eyed new recruit Leonard (Sam Berrill), his beleaguered secretary Julia (Emily Clark) and her overbearing mother (David Cartwright). However, the most interesting character is a red balloon that appears to Leonard in a storm, that decidedly has its own personality, following him around and inspiring him to tell Julia of his admiration for her. The balloon is carried about by whichever actor is spare on the scene, and the fluidity of the actors and their various characters, human and otherwise, is another unique and memorable facet of the play.

There’s a massive range of subtleties to the show in the understated soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the muted range of emotion in the urban sprawl. This serves to highlight the blasts of energetic, ethereal excitement that occasionally emerge from nowhere. The balloon is the inspiration for all this as the audience is carried away through what really is a magical journey.

One of the best things about the show is the range of genres it seems to cover. There’s black comedy in the form of Julia’s mother’s paranoia about the world outside, ranging to the surreal soundless dance of Leonard’s childhood that, while initially confusing, was oddly beautiful.

The costume design was obviously very well thought through. Composed almost entirely of dull greys and beiges, with the occasional splash of red where we see the rare break into exhilaration and joy, in line with the colour of the balloon. This is just one example of the attention to detail that is present in all spheres of the production.

The greatest success of this show is the pure originality of it all, especially considering that it’s inspiration comes mainly from of a film made more than 50 years ago. The plot harkened back to a lost industrial Britain but still seemed totally fresh. The staging, choreography and acting were all perfectly put together and this was without doubt one of the most original and exciting pieces I’ve seen for a while.

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David Harris

at 23:59 on 3rd Aug 2014

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This is a play that deserves to be watched and followed immediately by a trip to the pub to discuss deeply existential questions over a drink.

The plot itself is relatively simple: office worker Julia (Emily Clarke) is torn between the controlling influence of her mother (David Cartwright) and boss (Alex Monk), but irresistibly drawn towards the imagination and charm of co-worker Leonard (Sam Berrill). But this is only a fraction of what the show has to offer; its abstract, complex metaphors and symbols will ensure that everyone comes away with a different understanding.

Technically, every aspect is brilliant. The minimalist string music played in various scenes complements and enhances the atmosphere, and the lighting is beautifully designed and perfectly timed; the first scene in which it rains is the best example of this. Meanwhile, set and props are used very cleverly – a double-sided chair enables slick transitions between scenes, and piles of boxes are surprisingly versatile – but their sparseness enable the actors to make full use of the space.

In terms of acting, the more conventional scenes do exactly what they need to do: deliver the story with snappiness and clarity. Where the cast really come into their own, however, is in the moments where they represent a variety of people and objects interacting with Leonard throughout his day. They are fellow commuters, crows, the wind, and much more. Their physicality is captivating, and the recurring balloon (representing childish innocence and playfulness) feels like a character in itself.

Despite the fascinating, deeply philosophical nature of the piece, what makes it a must-see for me is that it is not afraid to be funny. This obviously reflects the overall message, but is an aspect that could easily be lost if it were performed by a less accomplished group. As it is, there are puns, excellent comic timing and delivery, and hilarious self-awareness – at one point where a character is miming an action, another points out that they “don’t even have a jar!”

If I absolutely had to think of a criticism, I would say that, in the interaction-with-Leonard routines, the rest of the cast are ever so slightly intrusive – but this is incredibly minor. There are endless things to laugh at, marvel at, and think about in Don’t Let Go, and I am sure the experience will stay with me for a very long time.

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