Zoe Hazan gives her thoughts on Aftershock, an examination of trauma, memory and bitter truths—and Studiospace’s final show of the year.
Studiospace give merciful respite from the heat in the dark, dusty interior of the White Theatre. Cast members sit, perch and crouch in tableau alongside and around the audience in order to create an immersive experience. The space laid out invokes the destruction and desolation that the title of the play suggests.
remembering can often be as painful as original experience
Teja Boocock’s set is a kind of post-apocalyptic void. Soiled sheets, ripped curtains and rags are draped over hanging debris. Paper, files and photographs litter the floor and hanging light bulbs swing eerily from wires dangling from the ceiling. This is complemented by Romilly Browne’s vision: actors are all dressed in a muted palette of white, greys and browns.
Sam Bird’s Aftershock attempts to interrogate ideas of destruction, loss, grief and regret. It does this by exploring the pillars that prop up, and are, unfortunately, a fact of life: dementia, suicide, murder and betrayal. Each embodiment of these bitter truths intersects and follows on from the previous; a tape recorder is a pivotal prop that is passed from character to character. It is the nexus that connects all these truths and is an effective way of bringing in different voices, plot information and echoes from the past. The tape recorder becomes, in many ways, emblematic of memory. Retrieval of memories can never be as simple as pushing a button on a tape recorder, and remembering can often be as painful as original experience.
Unfortunately, Aftershock falls victim to cliché. Stuffed to the gills with experimental dance, voice-overs and truisms, it lacks the light and shade necessary to depict the complex subject matter. Besides the crass invocation of Plath’s ‘Daddy’ the Black Swan type face masks or the Rothko-esque painting that is brought out as an example of one of the deceased characters work, the artist-as-tormented trope may actually be detrimental to raising awareness of the issues at hand. It suggests that these issues only affect the ‘tragic’ or the ‘beautiful’ (as the character IS described) and detracts from the broad scope of the themes.
Bird’s script does have moments of poignancy, but these are, again, when the dialogue is most naturalistic. In the instances where he tries to push poeticism or meaning, the effect can be quite overbearing. In the same vein, the best moment of acting is an analeptic episode—a private moment—two lovers dancing to a favourite song. The themes speak volumes, and do not need to be shouted over.
The play asks very interesting questions about blame, and at a time where we should perhaps be asking our university institutions what more they can do, Aftershock comes right on cue.
Aftershock runs at the White Theatre until 1st June. Tickets are available here.
What were your thoughts on Aftershock? Did you agree with our reviewer? Let us know in comments below or on social media