HOW WELL YOU KNOW ME

Tue 8th October 2013

reviews

Olivia Lace-Evans

at 12:59 on 9th Oct 2013

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If you’ve had the joy of reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 'The Yellow Wallpaper', you will understand why I sat down in the Bierkeller Theatre with such anticipation. With the mental fragmentation of the central protagonist and the poignant exploration of contemporary treatment of mental illness, there is so much to delve into and the potential it has as a theatrical piece is tremendous. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed and Tree Shadow Theatre Productions tackled the subject with skill.

'How Well You Know Me', made up of Gilman’s 'The Yellow Wallpaper' and complemented by Alice Gerstenberg’s 'Overtones', showcased an incredibly able cast who shone under the creative direction of Louisa J Wilde.

The Yellow Wallpaper opened the evening and the audience was immediately drawn in by the simple yet atmospheric set design. Strips of torn paper hung down from the netting dangling over the stage, curling down and creating sinister shadows across the stage. As a result, the audience was engulfed by the sense of claustrophobia and inescapability that the piece explores. Wilde furthered this effectively by using piercing buzzing sounds and ticking background noises to reflect the paranoia of the woman. In this sense, the production was technically very good.

What was most impressive about the adaptation was the precision and fluidity of the piece. Initially the four actresses were divided into pairs, each echoing their partners movements exactly. As the woman descends further into madness, the shadow actresses would become increasingly frantic, roaming the parameters of the set and placing their hands up against the invisible barriers of both the room and their inescapable insanity. The stylisation worked well as a poignant reflection of the woman’s mental fragmentation and sense of entrapment.

However, though the cast was evidently able and the direction was both creative and original, there was a certain point where the psychological fragmentation of the performance could have been pushed further. Although the plot was clearly delivered, there were moments where the delivery felt slightly flat. As the protagonist descends further into madness there was room to demonstrate a more frantic and obvious disintegration. Unfortunately, as this wasn’t demonstrated, the end of the piece felt somewhat underwhelming compared to the promise shown at the beginning.

The second half of the production, Gerstenberg’s 'Overtones', was a good choice as a complementary piece. Providing a far more comic exploration of human psychology, the piece focused upon the difference between reality and perception and how we choose to interact with one another. Each character worked extremely well and really demonstrated each actress’ ability. Louisa Wilde’s posh and snobbish character was controlled and witty, providing a brilliant contrast to Hannah Brooks’ more brash and confident portrayal of her psyche. Equally, Lucy Theobald’s character, the wife of a failing artist, was subtle and well measured. It is worth noting that Sally Sydney Geake shone as an individual in both pieces, particularly the latter. Her depiction of Theobald’s psyche had brilliant comic timing and really held the attention of the audience. Overall the piece was strong and well performed. However, the stage combat at the end of the performance lacked some finesse and meant that the impact of the piece was diminished at the final moment.

Unfortunately, the theatre was extremely empty and it is a shame that so few people had a chance to come and see this production. For some reason, it is only being performed in the Beirkeller for one night. Although there were a few elements that needed revising and polishing, the overall production was thought provoking and entertaining. 'How Well You Know Me' is a competent exploration of an extremely sensitive and poignant subject and I applaud them for their capable production.

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Anwen Jones

at 15:13 on 9th Oct 2013

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Although I have never read 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I am aware of the disturbing investigation it takes into the troubled mind of a singular female character. Hence, I was intrigued to see how Tree Shadow Theatre Productions would present such a subtle but incredibly powerful story on stage, alongside a performance of Alice Gerstenberg's one act play, 'Overtones'.

A feat in itself to attempt two different types of theatre, it was clear from the offset that the four-strong cast were here to do business. With a minimal set - a canopied structure supporting fragments of wallpaper with two duvets spread on the floor - there was nothing to detract from the speech and expressions of the actors as they entered the eerie, uncertain world created by Perkins Gilman's magnificent writing. By splitting the central character's role, the audience were presented with two different interpretations of her distress. Whilst Hannah Brooks portrayed a more tender, vulnerable Jane, Sally Sydney Geake embodied a tougher, haughtier take on the character, reminding me at times, and rather embarrassingly on my behalf, of Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. Indeed, these two differing personas worked well, and alongside the waif-like, airy figures which seemed to represent the character's subconscious, combined to create a compelling performance of a woman's tragic mental breakdown.

However, it is a shame that some components of the piece were a little lack-lustre; for example, although the use of physical theatre and combat was daring and different, sometimes it appeared a little gratuitous, making the action appear more like an A level drama piece than a professional show. In addition, the use of certain sound effects and movie clips appeared, on the whole, incongruous to the action taking place on stage and although I can appreciate that the director may have been trying to do something different from the norm, they served to interrupt the flow of the piece, rather than emphasize certain aspects of it.

Despite this however, the fluid change-over of both cast and set from the first piece to the second was flawless. Exploring the conflict between social conduct and internal private thought, Overtones by Alice Gerstenberg provided the actors with a script that was comedic, clever and challenging. Whether it was this change from the disturbing to the amusing or not, this piece increased in energy and vibrancy, with each one of the cast growing into their performance. The quick dialogue between the said and the unsaid was incredible to watch and I must commend the entire cast for their impeccable comic timing and impressive interaction. However, although the whole cast is undoubtedly talented, I can't help but pick out Sally Sydney Geake for particular praise; not only did she hold the audience's attention throughout both pieces of theatre, she also committed wholeheartedly to her characters, making them and the strange, unrealistic stories they were in, believable.

Again however, although the piece grew in energy compared to the first, I still felt it had more room to expand and was a little disappointed when the lights came up at the end, as I willed the action to reach that climax the audience were waiting for.

On the whole, Tree Shadow Productions is an impressive theatre company, challenging audiences by choosing different, innovative scripts. I also cannot deny that the cast of How Well You Know Me are enthusiastic young actors who have all the right components to make this production a brilliant one. Unfortunately, this particular performance fell slightly flat, but hopefully with a bigger audience, and a little more energy, they can go on to make this production fall closer to perfection than mediocrity,as it certainly has the potential to do so.

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