Claustrophobia, Hope Theatre


I imagine getting stuck in a lift is pretty high on the list of “Worst Things Ever.” Well, it’s obviously not as horrible as the death of a loved one, terrorism, cancer and a host of other things, but in terms of scary experiences that can ruin your day, it’s definitely up there. And, the longer you’re trapped, the worse it gets. In Claustrophobia, Aidan and Rachel are on their way home when the lift their in stops moving. As minutes turn into hours, their phones run out of battery and they run out of food and water. Mental and emotional deterioration sets in.

Playwright Jason Hewitt cleverly breaks down the play’s structure as the characters do the same, and employs an ending device that creates ambiguity and questions about what is and isn’t real. Though the script addresses the crisis effectively through its structure, the characters lack development and some of the scene transitions are clunky. Director Sharon Burrell does an admirable job with this well-performed two hander in an intimate space, but elements of the script let it down.

Michael Cusick and Natasha Pring play defensive, closed characters that don’t give much away about themselves for most of the show. They’re damaged people and often quite rude to each other, but their language conceals the inner workings of their minds. Their vulnerability comes through in abstract moments later in the play. Both attack the roles with commitment and energy that is amplified on the small, in-the-round stage and are a pleasure to watch.

Lighting by Tom Burgess and his projections (co-designed with Burrell) are rich and visceral during the character’s expressionist and dreaming moments. The projected video is abstract and wonderfully evokes specific moods that the lighting matches. This tech augments the language and adds clarity to sections of the script that veer from the previously established naturalism, but the transitions between these two styles are abrupt, and never fully explained; there is an unsatisfying lack of connection to the characters’ real life.

This is Hewitt’s first full-length play and even though it needs work, it shows his capacity for creative thought and a confidence to play with form. Burrell’s use of the space and staging is excellent and supports the script’s ideas, as do Cusick and Pring’s great performances. Though there are some issues, this is a polished production that shows promise.

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