A night of cataclysmic weather brings two families together and something terrible happens: how and what exactly make up the meat of Bryony Lavery's play. As the families try to piece together what occurred and where ultimately to lay blame, so is the play a meditation on how to make sense of tragedy... Frantic Assembly's artistic director Scott Graham brings the best out of his performers and his staging is fluid and dynamic… Altogether it's another beautiful example of the non-traditional staging used so effectively by this company. Expertly performed by a very strong ensemble cast, I must applaud Eileen Walsh in particular... She is the emotional heart of the piece and carries it well.
... This new piece by Bryony Lavery, presented by physical theatre specialists Frantic Assembly, is a starkly ethereal theatrical chiller, albeit one that demands rigour from its audience. Its 75-minute running time also contains some of the most striking staging I've seen in a long time. Stylish and cryptic sound and lighting effects creep stealthily over Jon Bausor's arresting design, which pipes jagged outlines of doors and rooms with neon yellow. The actors, studies in increasing isolation, hover at impossible angles on the set and walls, in director/choreographer Scott Graham's startling non-verbal sequences. If we believe in absolutely nothing, asks Lavery, what is there left?
…The pity of The Believers is that it feels like a work-in-progress towards something that could carry a far stronger emotional charge and intellectual excitement. It intrigues but the characters are too insubstantial, the dialogue is too brisk and bland, the crucial questions about faith are skirted round. The fateful evening is revisited in a mixture of flashbacks and jump-out-of-your-seat flashes of lightning; eerie screams and otherworldly sounds abound. Director Scott Graham excels at mood-setting and together with designer Jon Bausor dazzles us with trompe-l'oeil sections of house in which the walls move and the performers appear to defy gravity. As things stand this ingenuity can't hide a multitude of dramatic sins – none of which, though, is beyond redemption. This feels like the right thematic territory to be exploring.
… Frantic Assembly's latest piece certainly plays with your head. At times it's like a hallucination looming out of the dark. Director Scott Graham and designer Jon Bausor play tricks so at times the actors appear to be suspended high up in the air or way beneath us so we look down on them. Carolyn Downing's sound design pelts and pounds, adding to the sense of foreboding. It takes very little – a few blackouts, strip lights like Biblical lightning and some cunning use of harnesses – to make us believe what we think we are seeing, to make the leap of faith. As Joff says at one point: "People believe in any fucking nonsense given the right circumstances."
This is, surely, British theatre's most electrifying spine-chiller since The Woman in Black. Staged with breathtaking visuals by the director, Scott Graham, of Frantic Assembly, The Believers is, for my money, more acutely disturbing than the West End's current horror plays, Ghost Stories and Let the Right One In... Lavery's murder-mystery structure doesn't quite hang together in the end. Still, Graham's cast is completely riveting, especially the stick-thin, pallid Penny Layden, whose Maud manages to look like a holier-than-thou Pollyanna one moment and a fairytale witch the next... Graham's creative team - led by Jon Bausor, the set designer - all deserve awards.
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