By Ben Clark
Aaron is a brief yet thought-provoking play about the challenges of living with Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). It packs an emotional punch, thanks to some great technical work and a stand-out performance from Mo Hafeez as Aaron. Stylistically, it blends naturalism with physical theatre, a mixture which can be effective, but can also feel a bit disjointed at times.
The play’s use of physical theatre was at its best when there were fewer cast members on stage. For example, the scene where Aaron meets his neighbour (played by Max Greenhalgh), was complemented by a well-practiced physical routine in which we saw Aaron’s frustration at not being able to form good relationships, and the way in which his alienation deepens over time. In scenes like this one could see the potential of physical theatre as a means of moving beyond the verbal and temporal confines of naturalism.
By contrast, when all five cast members were on stage, the use of physical theatre was a bit less slick, causing it to lose some of its mesmerising quality. Sometimes physical elements were introduced at unfortunate times, such as during the ambitious scene where Aaron’s insatiable appetite – a side-effect of PWS – was represented by a bizarre routine set in a supermarket. It was odd – and slightly bemusing – for such an important aspect of Aaron’s condition to be depicted in such a surreal way: Aaron dives around the stage to the sound of psychedelic music, in awe at all the food at his fingertips. Though it was clearly a genuine attempt to fathom what Aaron’s cravings would feel like from his point of view, the scene needed to be much shorter in order to mesh with the rest of the play.
With some reservations, I think the director, Flo Petrie, was right to use physical theatre to bolster her script. It just needed to be used more selectively. Unlike Inferno – another Wrong Tree Theatre production, using physical theatre to reimagine Dante’s masterpiece – Aaron is set in the real world of care homes, supermarkets and messy flats. This mundane world demands a different kind of physical theatre: more simplistic, less stylised.
Leaving physical theatre to one side, it is worth saying a few things about Mo Hafeez’s performance as Aaron. Hafeez did a great job in a very challenging role. He was very consistent in his speech, (he had a stutter and a lisp), mannerisms, (a toothy grin), and posture, (a slouch), all of which made for a convincing depiction of a PWS sufferer. It was partly due to his skilful acting, and partly because of some clever technical work, that the climax of the play was so touching. Soundbites (used to represent an answering machine) and music were put to extremely good use at this point as the audience came face to face with the dangers of isolation for someone with PWS.
Elsewhere in the play, the technical aspect of Aaron was equally impressive. Soundbites were used throughout, often to represent Aaron watching television. Music was played almost constantly, with only a few poor song choices (the song played for Aaron’s birthday was a bit grating). Lighting was used effectively to evoke different settings in a black box space.
All in all, this is a mature take on a complex condition. Its use of physical theatre is interesting, if not entirely integrated. Though fairly short, it gets across the daily struggle for PWS sufferers and their carers, whilst also dealing with weighty themes such as cyclicality and the difficulty of communication. If you fancy a challenging watch, then make sure to catch it at the DSU.
Photography: Mark Norton Media