Production: Shake the Clouds
Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: May 27 – May 30
This term is to see something of a rise in new student writing at the York Drama Society, with a third of the slots taken by plays never staged before – the first of which is Jamie Salazar’s Shake the Clouds. The production interweaves the mythos of Dido and Aeneas (Sophie Steiger and Robert Stuart) with the explorations of a team of archaeologists: Laura (Georgia Bird), Nathan (Adam Alcock) and Alex (Charlotte Roots Alexander-Marsh). Salazar’s take on the story and the various twists and turns he executes leads the play into moments of emotional depth and claustrophobic intensity that the cast rise to.
There is a very natural chemistry between the company, most acute and certainly affecting in quiet pauses, momentary glances, nuances of body language. In particular this occurs between Alcock and Bird whose relationship develops most naturally over the course of the play. In comparison the relationship between Stuart and Steiger’s characters is not given enough stage time to evolve, presented in stabs of emotion that while well executed by the two actors seem too rushed. However neither pairing is complete without the other and the sections where the performances play best with their script are the duologues. These are for me the most well crafted sections of the play, as is all the temporal interweaving that occurs as past and present collide. The requirements placed on Alcock and Alexander-Marsh by one of these in particular deserves special mention since both actors achieved the required transformation excellently. So much of what these actors can achieve however was dictated by their material and ultimately Salazar’s script has to be brought into discussion.
The play is dialogue heavy, not a flaw in itself, but something that requires not only solid acting, which the play has, but inventive staging to envelop it. This cannot be said to be always present, despite the ambitious and largely effective set as well as simple but effective lighting and sound techniques, particularly in the second half. Certain exchanges seem overwrought, artificial, often a symptom of either over-direction or dialogue that is in place to achieve a dramatic aim rather than one of character. Often the actors’ moments of wonderfully tender or awkward character development jar against overtly stated emotion or plot advancement. At crucial moments the characters are as likely to simply tell us how they feel as they are to show it naturally.
Salazar is playing an unusual game, pairing the ability to write semi-fantastical story with naturalistic dialogue, a feeling as if we have briefly stepped only half-way out of the ‘real world’, all bound within the unfolding of more serious underlying ideas. The result is that Shake the Clouds in style and tone most reminded me of the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, better known as the writer of the universally adored novella, ‘The Little Prince’. While Salazar isn’t quite on that level, most notably allowing what in Saint-Exupéry makes up the complex subtext of ideas to spill into the conversations of his characters directly, resulting in some of the more artificial sections mentioned earlier, he is finding himself a competent and unique voice. Of these ideas many are well explored, in particular the second act being primarily centred on the logical evolution of one daringly executed blind-side, but equally many are throw in and undeveloped, or rushed over too quickly. Shake the Clouds feels like a writer playing with ideas, and of course that is exactly what it is. Salazar describes the central theme to be that, “No-one knows what they’ll be remembered for. Expectations of your own legacy are never certain,” and undoubtedly that is the most prominent, but there are others in the play as yet unresolved.
Shake the Clouds seems to lack experience in realising ideas fully, both scripturally and visually, but it must be remembered just how ambitious some of the ideas are. Salazar deserves to develop his voice. Behind any flaws of presentation the over-arching concepts are elegantly intertwined and researched. All they require is to be more deftly executed.