Review: The Conscious Showcase

By Eleanor Sumner

New to Durham Student Theatre, South College’s Perception Theatre Company established themselves on stage with a fresh, engaging exploration of what it means to be ‘conscious’. Nine actors led the audience through a variety of monologues, not only enabling them to display their individual performance styles, but bouncing off one another to create an atmosphere of relatability and self-awareness. This novel showcase made space onstage for new faces to perform and use their voices impressively, alongside the fantastic support of more experienced actors. Overall, both the cast and the production team worked together to create an effective, special performance which left the audience with a new perception of the world around them, perfectly introducing the intentions of the company itself. 

Emma Whitehouse opened the show with a striking, sombre piece, discussing infertility and childbirth. Whitehouse successfully made the audience forget her real age, transforming herself into a woman caught in a community of mothers which perpetually reminds her of her inability to have children. With brilliant vocal skills, she excellently captured the feeling of inexpressibility, stuttering and struggling to form the words to communicate her pain. The stark contrast shown in her delivery of Fleabag displayed her range, having the audience howling at her well-executed punchlines. Whitehouse showed herself to be a force to be reckoned with, and it would certainly be a treat to see her in more productions going forward. 

The cheeky, endearing Jamal Alli performed from Flesh and Bone, a monologue discussing male insecurities surrounding sex and libido. Although he began with some trepidation, it was touching to see Alli get comfortable onstage and develop an impressive relationship with an audience happy to see a fresh face. Alli blended his comedic execution with his awkward insecurity skilfully, capturing well how it can be difficult for men to be vulnerable surrounding issues of sexuality and performance anxiety. The audience felt as if they were really in conversation with him, laughing and nodding along to Alli’s stories as if he were a close friend; my only complaint would be that we couldn’t see more of him! 

Fiona Lord got close and personal with the audience in her delivery of Leaves, discussing existential thoughts that all spectators could relate to in their own way. She sat close to the edge of the stage, using her hushed voice and wincing face to convincingly communicate her nerves in sharing her thoughts about life and death. This quieter monologue contrasted the others well to show the daunting nature of sharing one’s inner thoughts with others. It would have been nice to see more variety between Lord’s performances, though her comedic delivery in Girls Like That gave a nice touch which engaged the audience well. 

Sozya’s squinted eyes and slack jaw made her seem in a daze throughout her performance, brilliantly portraying the shock and detachment associate with sudden loss

Ayana De Soyza was a joy to watch onstage. She held the audience’s attention masterfully, and her unique performance style made me really look forward to her second monologue. Her delivery of I Just Can’t excellently portray the strength and inexpressibility of passion and love and was a heart-warming break for the audience from the more intense pieces. Her second monologue discussed the loss of a mother in an explosion, and Soyza’s squinted eyes and slack jaw made her seem in a daze throughout her performance, brilliantly portraying the shock and detachment associated with sudden loss. Her lucidity at the end of the monologue perfectly contrasted the black comedy of the opening lines, showing Soyza’s ability in how she packed so much range and emotion into such a short amount of time. 

Transforming the stage into a Netflix documentary, masterfully held the audience on the edge of their seats with Reign Over Me. Discussing the loss of his wife and daughters, Jarvis is an actor who understands the effect of reigning in the emotion rather than freely expressing throughout. This made his moments of sorrow so much more heartbreaking and had me close to tears as he broke down in front of the audience. His accent combined with his fantastic physicality really made it feel like I was watching an interview in a documentary, and Jarvis was narrating his real-life events. His uncomfortable shuffling in his chair, fiddling with his glasses and attempts to smile through the pain was incredible. His vocal skills alone were enough to make the piece moving, the grief bleeding through into his tone throughout. Whilst his second monologue didn’t quite match this commanding energy, Jarvis was an absolute pleasure to watch and was one of the best parts of the whole production. 

  Noelle Nunes provided some brilliant comedy with Boys Will Be Boys, her sass and confidence had the audience laughing and enjoying themselves throughout. Her well-chosen hand gestures helped the audience visualise the bar setting, and her direct dialogue with the audience was delivered excellently, making it feel as if we were receiving gossip from a friend. She showed good variety in the contrasting performance of The Way of the Cross, where her sombre, foreboding tone was complimented skilfully by the eerie red lighting. Nunes showed so much potential and it would be amazing to see her confidence grow onstage. 

Bittar held the audience’s full attention with ease throughout both of his monologues

commanded the stage with fantastic confidence and suaveness, making the audience feel right at home in his company. From his brilliant and versatile vocal skills to his hilarious dance moves, Bittar held the audience’s full attention with ease throughout both his monologues. Lose Yourself was particularly entertaining, as one could see Bittar transform himself into different characters on the dance floor; it was almost as if there were others on stage playing the roles. He created a unique dynamic with the audience which went unmatched within the production, drawing out the exact reactions he wanted from every line. His descent into anxious spiralling in Mosquitoes really showcased his ability to change the tone of his performance subtly, as the audience’s laughter died down and amusement shifted to feelings of concern. This was achieved smoothly and with such knowledge, demonstrating Bittar’s talent perfectly. 

Ade Adejobi’s monologues had a unique tone to them which sparked my interest. Her performance of Yard Girl was touching, as the audience could see her slowly reveal how hurt she was by the seeming abandonment she had suffered from her friend. She expressed the need to appear strong in prison well, visibly crushing her pain in order to avoid excess vulnerability. Her lack of movement did not restrict the piece, but rather added to the sense of confinement she was portraying. Her second monologue In My World… BLM was a strong message delivered powerfully and was a resonating end to the evening which called on the audience to think on her words. Whilst her holding back of emotion in both performances was effective, it would have been nice to see Adejobi’s breakthrough to give her performance just that bit more to make it really stand out. However, Adejobi was another actor who showed great potential and I would love to see her explore her talent in the future. 

Amar knew exactly when to let loose and have bursts of rage, giving her piece masterful vocal variety

The astounding delivered two brilliant monologues which explored the complexity of emotion and the inner workings of the mind. Her first monologue, My White Best Friend allowed Amar to convey the frustration and sense of injustice sparked by gentrification, her pent-up anger clear in her voice and her bitter smiles pushing the audience to look at themselves and reflect. Amar knew exactly when to let loose and have bursts of rage, giving her piece masterful vocal variety. She exceptionally expressed the fear of being described as aggressive or hysterical when holding oppressors accountable for their actions, recoiling from the audience as if afraid of their reaction; this really showed off Amar’s ability. Her second monologue Bullied, Bungled and Botched exhibited her understanding of the importance of silence. Amar’s fearful glances and anxious pacing portrayed her fear to open up about her mental health struggles, contributing just as much to her performance as her speech. Tech directors and Brianna Baptiste must be praised for their lighting in this monologue, the purple lights shining down on Amar cast shadows on her face and accentuated the worry and sadness which contorted her features. 

Director began the evening by saying the showcase was meant to be a break from our busy lives to explore race identity, trauma and mental health amongst other themes, and this showcase certainly achieved this. All audience members could relate to the topics or emotions depicted onstage, allowing them to consider themselves in relation to the actors’ messages. It was refreshing to see new faces grace the stage and show off their potential, and I really hope to see these faces again in future productions and watch them develop. This showcase set the precedent for the intentions of Perception Theatre Company, really pushing the audience to engage in a way which is not always achieved by other productions. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening with a meaningful tenor, packed full of talent. 

Image credit: Perception Theatre Company

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