27 August 2013

AuTheatre Review: "A Season in the Congo"

**AuTheatre consists of theatrical reviews by an Autistic individual (me) to let others on the Autistic spectrum be aware of which shows and/or venues are more friendly to those with sensory related difficulties. Each AuTheatre review will come in two parts - the first will be the venue itself (the layout, noise level, etc), the second will be of the show being reviewed.

(The idea came from my extreme frustration that every theatre review I've ever seen that referenced Autistic people and their sensibilities when seeing a show never actually came from Autistic people, but from their non-Autistic loved ones)


The entrance to the theatre is on the ground floor (1st floor for my fellow American readers), with a mostly open floor plan to maneuver around. There is a lift (elevator) to access other floors.

Since I went to the Young Vic on a Saturday night, that meant that it was very busy. There were crowds of people in the bar, as well as very loud jazz music being played. It was hard for me to concentrate on anything else besides the noise. I'm sure that if one went to the Young Vic on, say, a Wednesday afternoon, it would be much more of a relaxing wait period than what I experienced.

The space uses mostly natural light from the ginormous windows, and it is air conditioned. 

The theatre itself is lit by some fluorescent lights, and some decorative, Christmas-like lights. The ground floor of the stage area had enough space to fit in a wheelchair as needed (as well as the upper levels), but did utilize to fit as many people in the seats as possible.

I had a standing seat (I couldn't pass up a five pound ticket), so I was in the upper level of the theatre against the wall.

The Young Vic offers specific performances for audio described and captioned accessibility. The performance I saw, on 23rd August, had neither of those (for myself, while I learn best with captions, is something I'm able to adapt with, though I realize that is not the case for everyone).


Picture by Young Vic Theatre

The actors in the show were interacting with the audience members out of character before the show started. Some might have found this confusing, possibly because of being taught to always separate the actor from the character. However, I found this to be extremely comforting after all the noise from the bar area. It re-evaluates the concept that art needs to be compartmentalized. If the actor is seen out of character but is still on stage, does that lessen the performance? (Short answer: No. It most likely shows how talented they are because of the contrast.)

The pre show music was repetitive and easy to get distracted by, thus easy to ignore the crowd of people coming in before the show started.

A Season in the Congo* by Aimé Césaire and directed by Joe Wright, tells the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba (played by the emotionally captivating Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the struggle for the independence of Congo. The years of the play are set between 1955 to 1961, when Lumumba was executed. 

The scene transitions that were utilized were either characters changing the year and/or location on the chalkboard (which was helpful), or through song and dance, to capture the environment of the characters at any specific point. For those not familiar with theatre that includes non-verbal story progression, this concept might take some aback. The talent of the dancers and how they weave the different parts into the story like stitches trying to fix the skin is worthy enough to be its own show - in one word, stunning!

Picture by Young Vic Theatre

Another thing that I was very impressed and amazed by was the puppetry of the Belgian Bankers - Extremely large white heads with small arms (on the inside they're really snakes!) and a whole team operating and voicing five puppets. On top of this, the way that this show does not have white people in the cast, but has white characters, is subtle in the costuming outside of the puppets (long white nose attachments, for example), and I admit it took me a few minutes before the "ah-ha!" moment arrived. 

Sensory wise, there was fog-like smoke during the show. There were also some very loud gunshots as well. The second to last one, the one resulting in Lumumba's execution, seemed convincingly real. Those gunshots were genuinely terrifying.

This show requires extra research into the story outside of the show, especially if, like myself, you came in knowing next to nothing about it.

I still have Pauline Lumumba's line, "Where is my husband" stuck in my head. Good lines, and amazing shows, often do stick, long after the curtain falls.

Extra kudos to (I believe) Joseph Mydell. Your American accent did not make me cringe in terror. Sending all the love to the show's voice coach as well!

*Unfortunately, the show ended on 24th August. My extreme apologies for not getting my review in sooner. In future, I will strive to be more efficient about it.

Til next time, lovelies!


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