Camden Fringe 2017
It is 2040. In the aftermath of the war, soldier Kari Trent wakes in a cell with no recollection of how or why she got there. There is no exit, no company (so it seems), and no answers. She must discover the truth for herself if she is to escape ‘Sanctuary’.
Winner of the Stockwell Playhouse’s One Act Festival 2017
Now You Know theatre company know their Sci Fi, and this piece has a great premise and a strong story, humanised by the particular themes it choses to explore: women at war, PTSD, survivors’ guilt, and the essence of human self-preservation.
Running at just under an hour, it is a face-paced; the energy and momentum supported by excellent use of music and special effects, especially in flashback scenes.
Set in a single room, or cell, the action fits perfectly into the Tristan Bates space.
Writer/Director Anthony Orme offers us an unusual take on what it takes to come to terms with trauma and grief – to survive. As the piece unfolds, we identify S.A.M., the voice that guides Kari through her treatment (and intervenes in it at times) as some kind of artificial intelligence. The revelations are handled nicely, and are not entirely resolved. There is a clear and moving back story, but it doesn’t become too prominent.
Elizabeth Robin gives a strong performance as Kari. She has great physical presence, moving around the space to create a real sense of being caged. She interacts nicely with the actual structure of the theatre, banging its walls. Expressive (and bad mouthed) in her anger, she also takes us along on her descent into grief and despair. Her reactions could perhaps have had more layers in the early parts of the piece. We saw (or heard) her confusion and panicked thinking primarily though the questions she asks – she is rarely dumbfounded or frozen.
Catalina Blackman provides good support, both in a walk on (or rather run-on) role into Kari’s memory and as S.A.M. Here, Blackman’s voice moves smoothly between human and machine-like intonations, although we are occasionally wrong-footed (wrong-eared?). I particularly enjoyed Blackman’s vocal homage to Scarlett Johansson’s Samanatha (in the film Her).
In a Sci-Fi thriller with just two characters in one room-scape, there are always going to dramaturgical challenges resolving the story’s questions and dilemmas. A slightly lighter handling of its exposition, particularly of S.A.M.’s therapeutic advice, and of Kari’s final realisation and resolution, would have made the piece stronger still.
This award-winning play offers a tight package of scientific intrigue and emotional rawness, delivered through strong performances and excellent effects. Sci Fi fans may be especially drawn to it, but there are important ideas here for us all.