Hamilton Fringe 2016
Todd is asleep… OR IS HE???? Stumbling through a darkened landscape of mishmashed characters from the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy and psychiatric care, Todd wrestles with existential questions and some challenging episodes from his past in search of illumination and redemption.
Todd – like his father before him – suffers from an extremely rare and incurable disease called ‘fatal familial insomnia’. The sufferer suddenly stops achieving anything deeper than the most superficial of sleep, and eventually spends the whole time in a hallucinatory pre-sleep state. The body becomes unable to get the rest and recuperation it needs, and death usually follows about a year after onset.
It is in this semi-dream hinterland that Nicholas Dave Amott’s solo physical theatre piece is set. The dream-setting is such a well-worn cliché in storytelling, and so decisively conquered by Alice and her Wonderland, that it’s quite difficult to find an original spin on it. Nicholas succeeds pretty well; this show evokes a dreamscape that is suitably dark and uneasy for one tinged with the reality of inevitable death. It also conjures up a believably twisted dream-logic, in which images from popular culture juxtapose to comic effect, and anything and everything may or may not be the metaphor that holds the vital key.
His use of practicals (on-stage lighting which also form part of the stage design) is impressive and inventive, succeeding in conjuring up a range of locations and atmospheres while casting an evocative pallor over proceedings. It is a stupendously hot Ontario summer’s day outside, which the design succeeds in allowing us to forget for the duration.
Todd encounters many characters along his path to self-discovery; some may be mere reflections of his psyche, others may be actual living people with whom he interacts in the real world – he’s not sure, and neither, for the most part, are we. The character who sticks around longest, and is the conduit through whom we discover most about Todd, is a mysterious Doctor (I assume at first this means medical doctor, but he turns out to be more of a psychiatrist). He’s mysterious both in that he won’t reveal his identity or show Todd his face, and in that he is a little inconsistent – he begins by knowing everything there is to know about Todd, and then attacks Todd for keeping information from him. Notwithstanding this incongruity of character (which, after all, is entirely in keeping with the dreamlike shifting of all realities in this world), the Doctor is an interestingly-staged and narratively useful storytelling device. He is Todd’s, and our, anchor.
Personally, I’d like more science. (If you know me, you’ll know that’s what I’m into.) After all, this is a theme with room for science. There is a bizarre fleeting reference to relativity, and there are occasional hints at the search for a cure, but it was not until I looked up fatal familial insomnia on the internet afterwards that I fully understood what the play was about, and knew for sure that it wasn’t something the playwright had made up.
This is an intriguing and powerfully-performed piece, which does interesting things with form. Not all of its potential is fully realised, but it’s definitely worth a peek.