Venue: The Drama Barn
An eerily beautiful atmosphere was created upon walking into the Drama Barn on Thursday evening. The dimly lit space (evoking a cave) coupled with the peacefully dissonant sounds of the water outside transfixed the audience from the start. It even smelled like the inside of a cave, which I promise wasn’t just the usual drama barn mustiness but credit to the set designers who created an atmosphere that transported the audience into a claustrophobic mythical location. The drama barn, with its ability to only house about 30 people, was the perfect location for such a tense and intimate spectacle.
The play focuses on three Cornish teenagers about to embark on a life changing and expansive journey towards University and the bigger city. The three friends Ina (Ellie Ward), Holman (Freya Kingsley) and Tre (James Mcllwrath) spend one last evening together performing a ritual that almost tears them apart. The plot evoked notions of youthful powerlessness in a condemning world and there was this atmospheric anger and tragedy that all three performers captured equally well. Upon finding out that the play consisted of only three actors, I wasn’t expecting the variety and strength that these performances exuded. I could not have been more wrong. The three had an incredible chemistry and their powerful performances were dripping with hysteria, warmth and resentment, three qualities it seems nonsensical to put in the same sentence; but they did it. The diversity of their acting as well as their subtlety and the tension they managed to create was admirable. I was impressed with the Cornish accent that James Mcllwrath, who played the only male character Tre, crafted, although in places I found him difficult to understand. However, saying this, he captured the essence of a classical Cornish lad and was also able to appropriate the profundity that the character needed. I was similarly impressed with Hol’s nonchalance and insecurity as well as Ina’s nervous energy and intensity.
Not only was the play delightfully Cornish and touching in places, the themes were harrowing and tragic too. As one of the audience members, I felt very much a part of the action or at least involved in some tragic element of these youthful lives and yet simultaneously detached too. The disillusionment and disempowerment that was evident on the faces of these three youths was highly relatable and made the opening light-heartedness of the play obsolete – with implicit themes of unreality, meaningless and sexism shining through, the play ended well but uneasily. The three characters as well as the audience seemed unsure of where to go next.
Credit must also be given to graphic designers whose artistic choices were hypnotic. The inclusion of shadow puppetry contributed to the illusory and wholly ungraspable ambiance of the play. The choice to display silhouettes of ghoulish bodies and watchful eyes and the dark orange glow was unnerving as the play built to a climax. This, coupled with chilling screams of Ina (played by Ellie Ward, whose heart and soul went into the character), tragic epiphanies and thought provoking physicality actually sent shivers down my spine.
With only a few days left of The Mystae playing, I highly recommend going to see it. The actors will mesmerize you and the set will transform you. The Mystae brought to light some provocative themes and a refreshing, if not slightly depressing view on modern life and the coming of age.