Once Was Human – Review

March 31, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

✭✭✩✩✩   Opening the door

Once Was Human - sill

A silhouette tank in Once Was Human. Photo © production

Hidden Door Festival, Market Street
Sat 29 March, Wed 2 April
Review by Thom Dibdin

On Edinburgh’s Market Street, in the vaults created along the edge of the Old Town, the ever-surprising Hidden Door festival has made its home for this week only.

It’s a place of experiment. Funky, amusing and sometimes frankly disturbed art installations make up the majority of the 24 found spaces. A couple of bars serve Stewart’s beers on tap alongside pop-up music venues and there’s even a cinema.

And the final vault, a huge gaping space by comparison with the rest of them, has been turned over to performance. This quite appropriate space is where Joel Mason has chosen to stage Once Was Human, his brief, haunting but somewhat didactic play about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It feels an appropriate piece for an art festival, because Mason frames his tale of a soldier back from a tour of Afghanistan with a variety of silhouette depictions of the demons which flit through his mind, video images of shell-shocked soldiers twitching across the floor and film  of children playing cowboys and indians.

The jumbled mix of images has a feeling of an art installation itself. Although, as theatre the writing is too obvious and lacks the finesse which you would hope for in a more permanent space, while the presentation is scrapy.

Mason’s play concerns Scott (Mark Kydd) who wakes up in military hospital, unaware of where he is – or why his wife Cheryl (Sian Fiddimore) is there to see him.

Over a series of interviews with his psychologist (Danielle Farrow) Scott begins to explore the cumulation of indoctrinations and a particular incident which led him to this place. Meanwhile Cheryl has to learn to come to terms with his illness and the pair have to work out what to make of their future life.

“helps broaden understanding”

All well and good enough – Kydd and Fiddimore certainly do an excellent job of portraying the uncomfortable difficulties of loved ones coming to terms with veterans’ emotional wounds. And the introduction to Baxter Bear, a toy used during rehabilitation and modelled on a mascot which survived through WW2, is an interesting one, which helps broaden understanding of PTSD.

For all that this feels too much like a documentary there are points where the script needs a stiff rewrite. And while it generates plenty of understanding of Scott and Cheryl’s plights, it still requires an ancillary character in Andy Paterson’s Veteran to make its point about PTSD.

Nor does the play ever really engage emotionally with its characters. There is plenty of understanding and pity generated, but little empathy – and so the final reveal feels more like an intellectual twist or conceit rather than the big emotional hammer-blow it should be.

An interesting production of a script which feels written to order, on a topic that is certainly worth tackling.

However, as a production, this still needs tightening up – particularly in its use of puppets – while the script would benefit from a serious reappraisal of what it is trying to do and how best to achieve it.

Running time 1 hour
Sat 29 March, 1pm; Wed 2 April 6.30pm.
Hidden Door Festival, Market Street, Edinburgh.
Details: http://hiddendoorblog.org
The Hidden Door Festival takes place until Saturday, 5 April 2014. Details: hiddendoorblog.org.

ENDS

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Comments (1)

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  1. Susan Wales says:

    I enjoyed it – if ‘enjoy’ can be the correct word with a disturbing subject, but….
    The back-projections informed us well so I felt the puppetry was totally unnecessary. It had a tiny relevance in the opening sequence but after that just distracted us from what the characters were saying. The puppeteers were visible too, which reduced any effect the action on the screen might have had.
    I felt surprised when it ended because I hadn’t realised that was the ‘reveal’ scene – I anticipated more of an emotional response from the principal character. I appreciate PTSD sufferers might not react emotionally to recollections but for the story to have more impact I felt it needed it. However, there were very believable performances.

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