Black Box is five quite different plays, gathered together in one night of performance, a new venture by The Kelvin Players of Gloucester Road, Bristol. It is a space for learning, exploration, and experimentation.
Ghosts of Bedlam by Arthur Aldrich, set in a supposedly empty mental asylum. A civil servant is showing around a film maker who is creating a film about how the national health service has progressed. Set in the 1990’s, this play is a little dated.
However, the issues explored within the play are still very prevalent: no one wants to take ownership of the mentally ill. It paints a sorry picture of how things were, but suggests that things may not be better now. Despite the shiny new facilities that have been built.
Performance of the night was from Caroline Mitchell, who played Milly. She created an authentic character suffering from dementia, who was troubled by other issues she has encountered in life. Mitchell also found humour in the character too.
Make Yourself Comfortable, written and directed by Mat Rees, he clearly had a vision of the characters he’s written. The actors become absurd caricatures, reminding me of Disney Pixar animations, alive with such vivid facial expressions. My favourite moment was the start of the play, when Bernard first discovers what he has been coveting for so long. A chair.
In contrast to the previous play, the main theme of this was desire to own something; a basic human right to have a chair to sit on. It was quite silly on the surface but alongside the more somber Ghosts of Bedlam, I couldn’t help but seek out the deeper meaning. To me this play spoke of the impact of ‘ownership’ on social hierarchy, specifically ownership of homes in modern British society.
Make Yourself Comfortable was also very funny, had a great rhythm to it, and a strong influence of Beckett. Three people trapped in limbo, in a world that doesn’t seem to have any context or time frame, they are all fixated on something which seems totally ridiculous. Much like Waiting for Godot.
Speaking of Beckett, the second half of performances were; Come and Go, Ohio Impromptu and That Time, all written by Samuel Beckett. Beckett has such a haunting, and poetic beauty to his plays, these are three of his shorter plays, and as a result there is not much to play with. As a director you have to really stick to the stage directions and clutch at every little morsel of content Beckett has provided to try to get to the deeper meaning.
Come and Go is full of disappointment, three women betray one another, meeting as though they are the three witches from Hamlet. Something has bound them too one another, although much in their lives has changed over the course of their friendships.
Ohio Impromptu plays with the idea of nostalgia, with two identical men sat at a table. One reading from a book, the other intently listening.
That Time is similar to Krapp’s Last Tape, a sole male performer’s head is all that is visible. Unlike Krapp, this man wasn’t listening to recordings he has made, instead it feels as though we are listening to his internal monologue, flashback’s of moments from earlier in his life.
Overall, I can see why these five pieces were presented together. Each play took a different perspective on the inner workings of the human mind, wanting control, taking control, regret, disappointment, hope and fear. I am intrigued to see what the Kelvin Players do with the next Black Box.
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