Saturday, 11 September 2021

REVIEW: The System by the Original Theatre Company

Original Theatre are leading the way in the UK with fresh original hybrid shows that combine the danger of live theatre and the intimacy of the film media with new streamed productions available to Global audiences. The latest offering is an extraordinary 70-minute single shot unedited Steadicam capture of a fascinating one actor play written and performed by Emily Head. It's her debut script and is cleverly constructed and an ideal vehicle for the recording technique used.

The System we may believe is a criticism of the police and legal process that some sections of society rail against but as we learn from this fascinating play it is a name given to something much more difficult to understand and manage which this play engagingly and carefully pulls us into. The camera becomes the point of view police interviewer, DC Hardstaff, for a succession of suspects or witnesses who we meet across the interview table to a murder of Paul at a party in his house. But we jump from character to character in a disorientating fashion with sound effects, flashing lights or changes in camera angle signalling the change.

Emily Head brilliantly portrays for us her own creations without a change of costume by simple adjustment of their mannerism, changes of body positioning (sometimes as subtle as a movement of her feet), accents and varied attitudes. We instantly know we are faced with a different persona and the screen subtitles helpfully reminds us of her name. Agne Power is the pleasant 30-year-old Irish girl whose stepfather has been killed. Naomi Hubberd is a northerner with an attitude. Jax is the caring member of the family looking after others. Deakin is a Liverpudlian who refuses to cooperate. Bella Jones is a flirtatious American. Evie is Paul’s youngest daughter. Danni is an aggressive outsider who does not trust the police. Sophie stutters. Florence protests that she does not know anyone who doesn’t like Paul, except Danni. Beth is the fifteen-year-old hiding from view. In less skilled hand it could have become bewildering, but it becomes totally absorbing as we gradually piece together what happened, what Paul was really like and ultimately who DID it.

The writing delivers plenty of clues as the “we”’s and “our”s become more pronounced as well as the denial that “none of us are killers” and we grow ever more sympathetic to the figure in front of the camera as we learn of the abusive violent and controlling behaviour of the victim driven by a fervent religious justification.

Guy Unsworth ably assisted by the Steadicam operator Ben Eeley do an extraordinary job moving the point of view in and out of, and around the prison cell (designed by David Woodhead), to provide a fluid and continuous flow and allow Emily just enough time to reset her character. The atmospheric flashing lights and flickering fluorescent designed by Matt Haskins and disturbing background sounds designed by Max Pappenheim add to the tension.

It would be interesting to see it as a stage play but at the end, you sense that it might lose something without the camera focusing us in on the interviewee. Nevertheless this debut play promises much more to come from Emily Head and much more too from this new Hybrid medium that so cleverly combines the excitement of being in a live venue with the joy of a filmic storytelling, even on the small screen. 

I am already looking forward to what they all do next!

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £15
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