This month, Buxton’s Festival Fringe (4th-22nd July) has taken hold of the town and I went along to review a show.
Shadow Syndicate’s ‘Nine’ couldn’t feel fresher, with its exploration of the current Syrian conflict lending a streak of individualism to the recent news reports on the region. Also refreshing is its unfamiliar focus: the play avoids the exhaustively-covered cities of Homs and Damascus, instead taking us down into uncharted cellars, where British journalists lie captive.
As I entered the Orchestra Pit, I felt immediately uncomfortable. A dark stage, void of any decoration, loomed with all the reassurance of a lone magpie, perched on a wedding cake. Acting to heighten the ominous atmosphere, Laura Turner and Jessica Millott held (for an extraordinarily long time) frozen postures of resignation as we became seated.
And the tension only mounted. Both actresses displayed remarkable characterisation in their raw presentation of the effects that torture can have. Their depiction of the psychological and physical traumas suffered by captives in Syria was performed to such a convincing degree that I was left recoiling in horror.
Fuelled by the human instinct of self-preservation, each battled with the internal dichotomy of friendship versus independence, as demonstrated by the deceptively-harsh, rehearsed words of concern used by each to assess the physical harm suffered by the other: ‘Show me your hand…wriggle…bend.’ Yet in spite of this need for companionship, it was disturbingly easy to empathise with the concept of sacrificing another to save oneself; it is testament to the ability of both actresses that they were able to draw such repulsive and suppressed notions from their audience, such that would only truly manifest under the strain of torture.
The theatre was utilised to its greatest potential, juxtaposing a clamouring claustrophobia (induced by the dim lighting and tight performance space) with the concept of sanctuary (created by the horrific sound effects which came from the outside world.) Not only were the characters desperate to get out, they were also desperate to remain in their chains, with the alternative being torture. Thus, the audience was kept in an impossible state of fraught discomfort; an astounding feat, considering the entire play rested on only two actresses. And so, for several minutes after ‘Nine’ had drawn to a close, the audience remained silently stationary, contemplating what they had just witnessed.
Although it is needless to highlight the ages of Turner and Millott, I shall do so for precisely that reason. Reviewers of youth productions habitually comment on how remarkable young performers are… ‘for their age’ (just so you know, we find that very patronising.) In this case, both actresses (aged 17) performed to such a high level that they were simply remarkable, full stop.