Thought to Flesh, VAULT Festival

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The ice bucket challenge did a lot to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease. But how many people who froze their tits off because their mates dared them to actually learnt anything about the condition? Probably not many, so other means of educating about the condition are needed. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, Thought to Flesh creators Nathalie Czarnecki and Gareth Mitchell worked with doctors and researchers to develop a work that shares the human side of MND in an episodic montage following a young woman’s life with MND.

It’s evident that there are great intentions and thorough research behind the piece. It’s also clear that the creators have much skill and experience in making theatre. But that’s the trouble – there are moments that conflate theatre with a lecture, making the research behind the show glaringly obvious. It also very much feels like a work-in-progress, what with clumsy transitions and incomplete design.

The structure works well – jumping back and forth over Emily’s chronology from diagnosis to the disease’s advanced progress shows how rapidly sufferers can deteriorate and the impact is has on daily life and those around them. The most effective scenes are between Emily (Nathalie Czarnecki) and others: her boyfriend Anthony (Henry C Krempels), her friend and carer Karen (Lil Davis). The scenes that clash are monologues by her doctor explaining the disease to a darkened auditorium. This information would better serve as a programme fact sheet, or incorporated into scenes.

There’s a smattering of video projections by Karolina Maria Dudek, but these are used too sparingly to add much depth. Whilst the ones present are thoughtful and emotionally revealing, their erratic appearance negatively affects the show’s rhythm rather than enhancing it. The same applies to the sound design. Despite these issues, they can be easily rectified with further development.

There’s certainly scope for Thought to Flesh to become a slick, engaging piece of theatre that educates without lecturing.

Thought to Flesh runs through 26 February.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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