Bristol Theatre Review
Bierkeller, Bristol Thu 24th October 2013
at 01:02 on 25th Oct 2013
AsOne Theatre Company is not a group I am familiar with, and it was with some trepidation that I entered the Bierkeller to blue lights and ominous sheets across the stage. Whatever it was I was expecting, it was not the same thing that I ultimately viewed. ‘100’ was a surprisingly moving and emotional piece about the power of memory and what we truly value in our lives. Faced with their doom, each character must choose one moment to take with them into eternity. Quite a choice.
The show opened with an ominous soundscape of breathing, sighing, counting and mumbling while soft orchestrations played through the speakers. I was immediately put on edge; the sounds were wonderfully crafted to clash and move against each other whilst still being variations on, at that moment, an unknown theme. Ellis J. Wells, playing Alex, burst onto the stage in a cloud of bafflement and nervousness. He was slowly joined by the rest of the cast, each as confused as the last.
Jacqueline Avery’s entrance as the Guide was casual, clearly the only character comfortable in the setting. Her performance was one that changed throughout – some moments were tender and full of emotion while others felt forced and over acted. At times I did feel a slightly less cynical approach would have been more effective, though come her final confession she did go some way to justify these elements of her performance.
With the first memory, Alex’s recollection of his ‘motorbike racing’, we were immediately shown what a physical piece this would be, despite the minimal set and props. Four innocuous black cubes became desks, a step ladder, and a bar, among other items. A number of stout bamboo poles were also used in various ways to depict windows, beds and kitchen tables. Apart from this, the story was told with the actors voices and bodies. Each member of the ensemble transformed themselves a number of times throughout the performance, becoming office workers, commuters and even children to tell each others stories. Though imaginatively enacted I did feel some scene transitions dragged and could have been simplified to detract less from the action.
The entrance of Alex’s girlfriend Nia (Maya Aitken) felt somewhat underwhelming considering this meant she also had died, though later moments in the piece revealed how the couple both happened to die at the same time. Aitken was, for me, the most emotionally involved actor in the piece, and her chemistry with Wells was tender and heartbreaking at the same time, especially during her chosen memory.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lonely figure of Sophie, played by Jane Mckell, showed how hard work and determination do not always lead to better living. Her recollection of her mental breakdown, never labelled but which I came to assume was a form of dementia, was delicately handled and never at danger of coming across too strong. This was the story of a strong, successful woman taken before her time without a loved one to look after her in her last days.
Mainga Mayeya as Ketu was an intriguing character. From some small village, perhaps a tribe, his ‘radical’ thoughts, misunderstood by the village elders, led to his tragic and understated death, which also turned out to be his memory. The choice of a self-sacrifice felt strange to me as a memory to take with you, but it served as a reminder that to some people principles matter above all else.
The music and animation blended beautifully with the action, though I felt some projections became lost in the lights. They never detracted from the performance, instead complimenting it and adding another dimension to the stories being enacted. Simon Swarbrick’s underscoring helped each transition blend seamlessly into the next story and was at times surprisingly stirring.
My biggest criticism of ‘100’ has to be the fact it was only here for one night. Ideally I would love to tell my friends all about it and get them down to enjoy it and join me in hearty debate about our ‘perfect memory’. Instead I shall have to keep an eye on the company’s website and put their next appearance in my diary. In all, a provocative and fascinating insight into what we each hold dear, and how that can differ so vastly from person to person.