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Theatre review. “99% Proof”…

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Let me start by saying that I’m not claiming to be a theatre critic or an expert in all things thespian.
Which I know isn’t a very promising start to a theatre review but I don’t often get the chance to meet the writer/director of a play at a party prior to seeing the show, so obviously I wanted to go and support her theatrical debut at the local college’s performing arts centre last night.

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99% Proof is a brand new contemporary musical set in a London of austerity and privation, unemployment and despair, and focuses on the plight of Judin Job, (played with a passionate melancholy by Alex Rushton) a young Jewish man with no family, few friends and no prospects.

Act one deals with his encounters with various Orwellian government agencies, benefit officers from Hell, and rampant bureaucracy, and features the impressively resonant tones of Jack Ince as Guard and a great performance by Elizabeth Daleigh Hayton as the mildly teutonic, barely-repressed benefits office vamp, Go Bells.
As we see Judin being deprived of his basic rights, pushed from pillar to post by an uncaring system and humiliated by being made to wear a yellow star of David, symbol of Nazi-persecuted Jews in the second world war; “the only star you’ll ever win is stuck to your chest with a jagged pin”

Some complex themes are explored here, including institutionalised bigotry, the thoughtlessness of major corporations and the lack of care for those most vulnerable in our society, symbolised by the character of shell-shocked and traumatised returning soldier, Capability Brown, whose appeals to the medical authorities fall on deaf ears. Capability is played by Zack Hazell and his high, clear voice made a perfect counterpoint to the deeper tones of Guard and Judin during the many ensemble numbers.

There are lighter moments though, most memorably in the form of the 999 song, performed with considerable comic élan by Alex Martin as Ms Wackovski, the Tourette’s suffering, eastern European work experience trainee in the Job Centre, and the drunken hen night weaving back and forth across the stage.

All the scenes are played out on an almost blank stage, the different locations being cleverly represented by bespoke projected backdrops created by Royston Harwood, along with minimal props and furniture.

(Having myself been involved in theatrical shows called “Images on a Blank Stage” and “The Very Nearly One Man Mime Show”, I know how difficult it can be to create recognisable scenes with little or no scenery, so it’s a testament to the skill of everyone involved that, looking back on last night’s performance, I can clearly picture Judin’s scuzzy bedsit, the cold impersonal benefits office, and the supermarket in which Judin’s love interest, Astro Turf works as a hugely overqualified shelf stacker.)

Angela Elswood plays Astro, a gutsy character with a powerful voice and positive attitude, who tries to pull Judin out of his self-destructive spiral of misery, aided by CJ, (an upbeat but cynical Nathan Maynard) his roommate whose job mopping floors fails to inspire Judin to get up and get a job himself.

Meanwhile, the CEO of a multinational corporation (Jack Ince, in a dual role) gets into a bar room brawl and accidentally kills a man, having previously been the one to tell Judin that his “only prospects are Murder”.

And in a final double-ironic twist, it’s Judin – now resurrected from his pit of despair by the love of Astro and his love of music – who shows compassion to his one time tormentor, rescuing him in turn from his own demons.

The main characters were very nicely supported by a cast and chorus that gave the show a lively, kinetic energy that belied the small stage, including some nifty moves from the Breakin’ Beats Street Dance crew.

The whole cast and crew should be congratulated on a really well thought out, slickly executed piece of contemporary theatre, and the one who dreamed it all up, writer and director Jennifer Wilkin Shaw should be extremely proud of their performance.

{We were requested not to record the performance, so I didn’t take many photos, but I thought they would forgive this fuzzy curtain-call shot, if only to give you some idea of the room.}

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“Author! Author! – Jennifer, centre, meets her audience.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Arts, Personal anecdote, Theatre

 

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