Brighton Fringe 2017
THE.AM.A is a disabilities-led theatre from Greece, partially funded by the John S Fafalios Foundation. Four actors led by writer/director Sofia Stavrakaki enact what’s clearly a prison of a circus. Sweet Venues themselves provided sensitive lighting. Till May 11th.
Don’t let the next sentence put you off. THE.AM.A is a disabilities-led theatre from Greece, partially funded by the John S Fafalios Foundation. Four actors led by writer/director Sofia Stavrakaki enact what’s clearly a circus prison, people forced to perform rituals of trouping for the delectation of a whip-cracking elite. Something has to give. Taken as a metaphor for institutionalisation it’s a potent comment on Greece’s own experience of debt enslavement and jumping through hoops like circus dogs. Sweet Venues themselves provide sensitive lighting. It’s like nothing you’ll ever see even at the Fringe.
The wonder is they inhabit such a controlled precisely notated scenario so effortlessly; it’s both occlusive and spoken in a second or third language by at least two actors with disabilities, yet delivery is faultless. Sarah Gordy’s frequent appearances as an actor with Downes syndrome certainly normalises expectations. But this is a complex Beckettian drama delivered by Steven Berkoff on acid. Who’s the prey, who’s the hunted? It seems the answer’s plain enough. We don’t get to meet the hunters.
After a lugubrious dance sequence to a projected backdrop that continues too long, the burden’s taken by Stavrakaki herself in a black and psychedelic leotard and Vassilis Oikonomou: his translation of Aeschylus’ Persians featured last year. They’re a double-act who reprise brittle courtship and marriage in fractured takes on rewind. There’s clearly a point when medication and enforced acting – intoned through an experiential inner monologue or to each other – explodes. Wouldn’t it be better to be killed? Stavrakaki asks for death. The authorities are non-plussed.
The first scenario, eloquent and suffused admittedly in stygian gloom takes over forty minutes. Stavrakaki herself, immensely watchable, tries to ensure she doesn’t steal the show so consummate is she. Admittedly some gestures don’t translate, and English audiences don’t respond to gestural or physical theatre on freeze-frame. Just as clearly Stavrakaki‘s in control of her narrative. At this point Konstantinos Loukas is haltered on intoning deadpan the central text of The Night of the Hunt. Stavrakaki and Oikonomou are led on with muzzles and Hannah El Haj Omar joins in a dance of smiling horror exhaling her own narrative. The quartet assembled, the circus gathers a horrible momentum. It ends somewhat abruptly.
This summary hardly does justice to the atmosphere this production evokes or the meta-language burning through the glares of hallucinated prey. You’ll know whether it’s for you if you like Beckett or European theatre, particularly Theatre of the Absurd and one ought to suggest Theatre of Cruelty. Ionesco and Artaud, patron saint of dramatists with mental distress, are never far off. Like productions of such writers it either makes no impression at all or deeply fascinates. The difference here is that these actors aren’t feigning: they enact what an imaginative writer has conjured as a world: discriminated against in a country discriminated against by corporate jailors.