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Leper Colony

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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For a play in which nothing happens, Vaughan Pilikian’s {Leper Colony::L0813652408} is oddly mesmerising. Lulled in by the absentminded humming of Cristina Haraba as the six actors settle down on the dusty floor, the repetitive nature of their movements around The Yard’s stage becomes almost hypnotising, drawing us into their cycle of torment.

A solitary balloon floats in a corner and streamers and tinsel line the walls in stark contrast to the drab, threadbare set. It is almost as if one has stepped into a children’s party, but one in which the children have all gone mad. “That hurts!”, Pablo Meneu Barreira protests as Thomas Snowdon attempts to twist a key into his skull. The sheer absurdity of moments such as this, despite the slightly heavyhanded imagery, work to provide an often humorous alleviation from the monotony. Emilie Patry’s obsessive loyalty to a broken chair is both funny and strangely touching within a world of actors drifting past each other, each lost to their own dreamlike states.

And yet despite these few moments of warmth and humour, the production remains highly unsettling, its schizophrenic pace jittering from one extreme to the other. The actors circle each other like caged animals, their frustration building into an explosion of energy as they rain down props on one unfortunate member of their unhappy band. And then it is quiet again: the actors crawl on their hands and knees, drained of their former urgency.

Adding to this unsettling tone is the accompaniment of some excellent lighting and sound (from Tim Sidell and Martin Clarke respectively). Whether through the forlorn tolling of a single bell or the overwhelming sound of an apocalyptic rumbling, the sound works to give the impression that this demented children’s party is a far safer alternative to what rages outside. Accompanying these apocalyptic sounds is a pulsing light that serves to completely disrupt the melancholy atmosphere into something that makes you sit bolt upright in alarm just as you were drifting into the dreamlike state of the actors.

Leper Colony is not for everyone and yet there is something captivating in the way it both soothes and disturbs. At times impenetrable, its real strength is the way in which its world detaches you from your own, its sound and atmosphere working to make you slightly wary of stepping from the theatre, concerned as to what lurks outside.


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