Cleansed

Wed 5th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Stephanie Young

at 12:40 on 16th Aug 2015

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Newly established theatre company Fear No Colours present their ‘bold and experiential take’ on Sarah Kane’s visceral 1998 play, Cleansed, with some success. The piece sees a sadistic ‘doctor’ named Tinker (Erfan Shojanoori) conflate love and violence in the minds of the detainees in his mysterious institution of torture.

Producing a Sarah Kane play is an ambitious feat and the company should be commended for their courageous handling of the difficult material. The cast are unafraid of silence and do not rely on expressive dialogue (which is sparse) to carry their performances. Where they thrive is in their physical performances, thanks Sophie Lamont and Samuel Skoog’s excellent choreography. The convulsive movement sequences which mirror the effects of ECT have a subtle balletic quality; they are simultaneously distressing and watchable.

The small performance space and thrust staging is a natural choice for the group’s ‘experiential’ intentions and is generally effective. The audience feels voyeuristic, although, due to blocking, the experience is sometimes exclusive to the front row.

From a visual perspective, there are some compelling moments; for example, Carl (Samuel Skoog) desperately trying to grasp his commitment ring as the slippery blood from his own wrists makes it impossible. That said, one of the most affecting moments takes place in total darkness: we can only hear Robin (Raymond Wilson) repeatedly gorging himself on chocolates thrown to him like an animal and immediately vomiting.

Unfortunately, these promising fragments fail to fuse together to engender a constant sense of horror; I often found myself unengaged, and any strong emotive reaction I experienced dissipated quickly. The use of blackout between scenes was disruptive and unnecessary given the laborious opening of each one.

There is also major disparity in the quality of individual performances. Raymond Wilson is outstanding as Robin: his frenetic, vulnerable portrayal is rich. Tinker (Erfan Shojanoori), however, is bland for what is surely an incredibly complex character.

The use of recorded voiceovers is unsuccessful, the tone being incongruous with the rest of the dark play. More problematic is the insertion of a voice clip from playwright Sarah Kane prior to the final scene. The clip essentially explains that the acts of violence on stage are journalistically sourced, not figments of a sick imagination. Sadly, in attempting to explain and justify the nature of the production, Fear No Colours undermine its objective.

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Ed Grimble

at 12:43 on 16th Aug 2015

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As I left C Nova and staggered into the Edinburgh sunlight, I could feel the film of sweat that lay on my face. I should have been more prepared for Fear No Colours (FNC) production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed. I wasn’t. First performed in 1998, Cleansed is a distressingly brutal exploration into the limits of love and pain, and at once a celebration and condemnation of the nature of the human body. Director Julia Midtgard dispenses with Kane’s setting of an old university and instead gives us a stark black space on stage. The audience is thus compelled to focus entirely on the physical theatre before unfolding them. Grown men shift uncomfortably in their seats, the young lady beside looks down grimly into her lap.

The play’s premise is, in essence, not at all a complex one. Extreme sadist and self-proclaimed ‘doctor’ Tinker (Erfan Shojanoori) has in his charge a number of ‘patients’: a homosexual couple, a mentally ill man, a young woman and her brother, and a mysteriously woman in a long blue dress. 75 minutes of vicious physical and psychological torture ensue, and the play depicts both the strength of the love between human beings, cast against the pathetic fragility of the body.

There is little exposition in the play, with the audience being left to piece together what is going on before them through the scraps of information given to them. Tinker is referred to as ‘Doctor’ by his charges, there are numerous mentions of addiction, curing, cleansing, and burning. Indeed, one of the most harrowing moments I would imagine for each audience member is the moment, be this half way through the play itself or only after later reflection, when they realise that there is no greater narrative purpose to Cleansed’s painful episodes, not really. It is merely the documentation of the total obliteration of six human beings.

Kane’s play is notoriously tricky to stage. Yet again Midtgard’s direction shines. Instead of preposterous Titus Andronicus-esque mutilations, arm stubs covered in cumbersome bandages, Tinker carries with him a collection of syringes filled with a sanguinary liquid. Liberal application of this fluid on certain regions of a patient comes to represent an instance of physical torture, and the result is chilling, visceral, and infinitely more effective than a more ambitious alternative.

The acting is incredible, and the play has physicality in abundance. Aggressive electric guitars provoke powerful fits and spasms from the patients, as bodies are abused and pushed to their utmost limits of endurance. Sweat, blood, and saliva pool on the stage and the actors move as if in a trance, never allowing their intensity to waver even for a second. This show has to be seen. It is not a pleasant experience, but is simply a staggering and barbaric piece of theatre.

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