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Published on Tuesday, 19 July 2011

3 stars

Underground Venues - Barrel Room
7, 11, 20 Jul, 5:15pm-6:30pm; 18 Jul, 6:45pm-8:00pm
Reviewed by Alice de Cent

Drawing on his own experiences with mental illness, Stephen Wymark has created a play that seeks to achieve intimacy with the audience, strictly limiting capacity. This may not be the usual approach, but Wymark is after a direct emotional connection.

Using a combination of monologues and conversational questions to the audience, Wymark takes us on an intriguing journey into the mind of Harry Rouen, blurring the lines between theatre and reality. Though there is room for some tightening of the language, there was something fresh about the way Wymark spoke to each audience member at the beginning. As he began to create characters for us, though, I felt we lost the connection a little. Already a brave piece, it could become truly challenging if Wymark pushed further against the boundaries between actor and audience.

Perhaps some audiences would be uncomfortable with much more interaction than Wymark attempted – so any reluctance to take it further is understandable. However, the setting and informal manner of the opening is enough to set the scene for an intimate performance, so this need not be shied away from.

For me, the piece was at its best when it called attention to the complicity that exists between the audience and the performer – “it's not real, it's just a play” – letting us question the social construct we were all taking part in. Wymark made us look at the role the audience plays, the possibility of it being something more, and later the impossibility of connection.

The emotional arc of the character is demanding, and at times this strained Wymark’s performance, which got a little too breathy. However, his use of his own experiences ensures that we are treated to a heartfelt performance and encourages us to question the way we deal with being faced with a person in acute distress who just needs to connect.

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