The Enchanted, Bunker Theatre

York and Arden are two men on America’s death row waiting to die. An investigator, known to the prisoners as The Lady, works night and day to save their lives. The similarly unnamed chaplain does the same to save their souls. As the two piece together the pasts of the men about to meet their deaths, a physical theatre ensemble and extracts from Rene Denfeld’s poetic novel The Enchanted creates a dreamlike, romanticised view of poverty-stricken rural America and the killers it breeds.

This is a pretty piece of expressionistic theatre that pleases the eyes and ears, but its favouring of poetic ambiguity and metaphor over concrete details and characterisation creates emotional distance. It’s difficult to find sympathy for a psychopath when their childhood trauma is nostalgically romanticised or vaguely alluded to when we see so little of them directly. The language contrasts York’s (Hunter Bishop) aggressive behaviour well, but apart from a few brief moments where he and the Lady (Jade Ogugua) speak directly, it does little to serve the character.

The physical interludes between short scenes evoke the nature imagery in the text – swirling winds and rushing water as well as the passage of time. They’re brief, and do little more than contribute atmosphere and indicate transition. The physical motif and abstract movement style are certainly underused, and the naturalistic scenes play it safe by not incorporating the non-naturalistic elements. The same goes for the puppets who make an appearance in a couple of scenes – there is little point in them being there at all.

The performances are generally good, with everyone getting a chance to take on a specific character as well as being part of the ensemble. Whilst no one is particularly weak, no one stands out. The accents are a bit off, but the biggest weakness is the insubstantial script. It’s pleasing to listen to, but the text is too fragmented and focused on imagery rather than conveying its story or fostering sympathy for those who’ve ended up on death row. This could be a powerful statement against the death penalty, but it never manages to give enough importance to any of the characters for that to be achieved.

The Enchanted runs through 17 June 2017.

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