Monday, 19 October 2009

The Idiot Colony - Birmingham Rep

The Idiot Colony
Writer: Lisle Turner
Director: Andrew Dawson
Reviewer: Helen Chapman

RedCape Theatre is passionate about telling stories that matter. Real issues, real lives. And so it produces The Idiot Colony based around case histories and interviews to portray the lives of women committed to a mental asylum in the 40s and 50s and branded moral defectives. It seems homosexuality and bearing illegitimate children through rape were enough to condemn a woman to indefinite confinement.

The chilling reality of such a time is powerfully depicted in this short piece as it cleverly intertwines three women’s experiences in the asylum with flashbacks from their past. Joy, Mary and Victoria are such different characters yet all in the same situation. Joy, contrary to what her name would suggest, is somewhat cynical about life, telling her story with sarcasm. In contrast is Mary who has an air of childlike innocence about her, eager to please. And Victoria, who, saying nothing throughout the play, is just blank. Expressionless. There is no sense of strong relationship between the three, but rather a mutual understanding that they are different acts as a bond between them, each willing to help the other.

But it’s not easy watching. The play begins with the three women, dressed all in white, gently swaying to ragtime music, in sync with each other and brushing their hair. In silence. In fact dialogue is thin throughout the play, adding to an almost eerie, dreamy atmosphere that constantly reminds you of the setting and the effect the asylum has had on the women over the years – quite how many we are never told. Add to this a simple effective set of white on black, inventive use of props (a miniature rainstorm born out of ringing a wet towel) and timely music, and you get the challenging, emotive theatre experience you came for.

The Idiot Colony works well on such a small stage as much of its power is in the expressions and emotions portrayed by the actresses which would have been lost in a bigger setting. The beauty is in the detail. Facial expression can say so much. Claire Coache, Cassie Friend and Rebecca Loukes give powerful performances as they live in the present and in the past, recounting their lives before they were unfairly institutionalised.

Startling, uncomfortable and insightful. And somehow making the audience laugh at times too. Definitely worth seeing.

Idiot Colony is on tour, for more info click here
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