Clever, creative and magnetic, Terra Nemo Theatre Company delivers another excellent show for their 2015 season with Madison Rauber’s Sensitise Me.
I have to admit I had my doubts after being given some “pills”, lead past a cliche screaming patient rocking back and fourth, squirmed my way through a foggy corridor filled with hazardous science lab decor and hand drawn hospital signs, and stuffed into a small black theatre. However, my skepticism was abolished once I found my seat and was introduced to Rauber’s fascinating concept and Director Annie White’s mesmerising production.
The concept of an illness causing an inability to feel is a tricky one, and while the doctor (Nicholas Prior) explained every aspect of the illness and its effects eloquently and the focal patient Violet (Rose Nguyen) embodied all of the symptoms wonderfully, it was Violet’s boyfriend Peter (Zayne Lake) who received the short end of the stick.
Peter’s character seemed to be very little more than Violet’s boyfriend. With a, most of the time, logical doctor and a scene partner who was literally unable to portray emotion, it was Peter who I looked to for humanity, feeling and personality. While Lake did a magnificent job bringing out the frustration and anguish that the character must endure, Peter seemed to have little of a back story beyond his connection to Violet. Put simply, Peter felt like an extension of Violet which was disappointing considering Lake’s excellent performance and the productions’ outstanding design and direction.
Nguyen’s portrayal of Violet was mesmerising. While her performance was often limited to drone-like mumbles due to her characters illness, the moments of Violet’s history of explosive emotion and contagious passion proved that Nguyen could carry the performance. With the combination of poetic language, soothing deliveries and vulnerable honesty, it was the opening flashbacks that stuck out as some of Nguyen’s performance highlights within the show.
Nicholas Prior’s portrayal of the doctor came as a burst of energy in an otherwise formidable show. The clever combination of Rauber’s sterile execution of medical details and Prior’s ability to shoot between chest tightening professionalism and snappy dark humour was a delight to watch. Throw in an ironic projection of an unenthused receptionist’s (Cassie George) cameo appearance and the hospital was definitely an unsettling place to be.
Design was a key element in bringing the play’s unsettling concept into the QACI theatre space. With a combination of simple yet powerful lighting, a soundscape that created a strong undertone tension, and purposeful screen projections, Sensitise Me’s design was one of the best I’ve seen from an independent Brisbane theatre company.
Diveakssh Shae and Eleni Pergaris’ soundscape was darkly effervescent. While the consistent theme added a underlying urgency to the play’s progression it was a looming heartbeat paired with the couple’s physical interaction that created a hopeful shift in Violet’s otherwise numbed state. This hope was quickly abolished by a puppeted slap reinstating Violet’s unfeeling disposition and dashing both Peter’s and our own hopes of her feeling something once again. Despite these clever effects, it was a distorted dance beat paired with a manic and erratic movement sequence that fore fronted the talent that Schae and Pergaris have up their technological sleeves.
Nicholas Seery’s use of a warm light to accompany Rauber’s elegant language describing Violet’s past love for the warmth of the sun on her boyfriend’s skin was a peak of comforting emotion within the play’s otherwise sterile transgression. This then contrasted in a stark backlight when the doctor began conducting tests on the unfeeling present-state Violet. Pair this effective lighting design with a simple yet appropriate set of plastic drapes, twin screen projections and the eventual addition of an uncanny bed frame, and brain scan device that looked like something Professor Xavier would use, and I was definitely getting the creeps!
With an eye opening concept, outstanding design team and talented cast and director, Sensitise Me had me astounded! The talent and hard work of these young Brisbane artists can only grow from here.
– Written by Rhumer Diball July 5th 2015
SENSITISE ME PRESENTED BY TERRA NEMO THEATRE COMPANY WED 1 – FRI 3 APRIL 2015.
Photo credit Tatjana Hamilton.