Brighton Fringe 2017
In an hour-long performance Chelsea Newton-Mountney performs Michelle Donkin’s dystopian Model Organisms at Sweet Dukebox directed by Andrew Allen (last year’s Year Without Summer) who also lights this barebones stage.
This piece enticingly swims into focus. Chelsea Newton-Mountney performs Michelle Donkin’s dystopian Model Organisms at Sweet Dukebox directed by Andrew Allen (last year’s Year Without Summer) who also lights this barebones stage.
Donkin’s dystopian vision is adroitly structured, beginning with a young woman in a cell, an ex-journalist who’s in isolation for humanity’s good; there are others like her. It emerges she’s a ‘low-level political journalist’ who attended a marriage with her partner and daughter when a chemical assault a kind of instant plague felled many perhaps worldwide. We sashay back and forth over her narrative, anchoring back to where Dr Jones tells she she can save humanity though her body being analysed; she must not be allowed to leave. She recounts her gutting experiences, deaths of partner and child, as she shrewdly elects to stay in the city, away from all. When seized by men and forced to live in a supermarket as sex slave – women who try escaping are shot – she eventually finds everyone starts fitting and spurting blood. It’s like Camus’ La Peste, a genuine plague.
Heading for isolation she joins another commune, reluctantly, then finds the head of it has similar attitudes. The central horror revolves around a girl recalling her daughter. As everyone lies fitting she escapes, then the Highs find her just as she recognizes something. These, the white-suited establishment of military and high-level politcos and surviving Royals, have staged a coup. The Norms like her are merely prey, cattle to be used. but she’s special.
Recognizing her dilemma, she discovers a rare escape opportunity. She’s heard of an all-woman commune. It might fail. but what if she joins it. The end’s an uncomfortably powerful one.
Donkin’s artistry as writer isn’t in doubt, and Newton-Mountney’s performance is compelling, though she hasn’t quite learned to modulate vocal projection at high pressure. She remains pacey, alert, and compelling; all the essentials for an exceptional performance are there already. Scrubbed clean of make-up, no art disguising art, she looks with her 139C t-shirt exactly what you’d expect, if possibly younger than her protagonist.
The problem lies with direction. Allen’s proved he’s imaginative, but like Year Without Summer from 2016 he’s a little prone to stasis; the flickering lights are a real distraction. They serve no function at all. With no props and no stage business, Newton-Mountney must move a little round the black stamp of a space. However magic has happened here, and Newton-Mountney’s artistry is given little help. She’s forced to contain herself, and at some volume points it’s still necessary for direction to touch the vocal and narrative arc. This is eminently worth seeing especially if you like dystopian narratives of the possible near-present. The story’s complete, but this journey’s just begun.