NUMB, VAULT Festival

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by Brad Tutt

Just before entering the theatre, a member of the company comes out to brief the audience. He there will be a joint audience and company discussion after the performance. This evokes a feeling that we are about to be confronted with something unexpected, which is proved right – by the company performing a live cover of a Rage Against the Machine song.

A contemporary and recognisable tale of Joe and his twin sister begins. As they grow up, through childhood and adolescence they have their lived experiences dictated by their differing genders. The story primarily focuses on Joe’s experiences of masculinity, trauma and depression, and how his specific gendered experience has taught him how (not) to deal with them.

Though set to a pace kicked off by that killer opening musical sequence and constant barrage of the narration, it is the use of silence that gives it is real, grounding moments of power. A scene between teenage Joe and his friend failing to articulate feelings over a PlayStation game particularly highlights the plays’ intention and the evening’s core message – emotional communication is key.

It is often said that any socially conscious piece of theatre isn’t made to present answers, but to start conversations, and to inspire members of society to talk about the issue directly rather than around it. Why does this happen? And how? They might even go as far as to ask how we fix it. The hope is usually to inspire real-world change through newly-discovered empathy, or sometimes, from gaining practical knowledge. At the very least, it wants audiences to discuss it in the bar after. Sense Assembly starts that conversation with you, literally, right there in the room.

After the play ends, there is a brief discussion on its themes and individual scenes. This is essentially a piece of Forum Theatre – the scenes discussed are re-enacted but the audience are encouraged to stop the scene at any time, and step in as a character themselves. We take the place of Joe’s friends and family, and pry a little deeper to let him be able to have meaningful conversations about his feelings, and capable of opening up.

NUMB is a multi-faceted show that seems more focused on why they are telling the story then the actual story overall. It is a useful examination of toxic masculinity and male mental health issues that ensures you walk away talking.

NUMB runs through 2 February.

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