Talk - Review

This production saw the further bonding of the New Venture Theatre with Sweetspot, the resident professional company. It not only gave the world premiere of NVT Artistic Director, Mark Wilson's play but it also featured in the cast, Peta Taylor, one of the Theatre's stalwarts.

Through intelligent writing and sensitive direction from Emma Kilbey the production provided a fascinating and moving insight into life within an asylum and the revolutionary changing attitudes to mental illness in Victorian times. Together with quality acting from the entire cast this production made a worthy contribution to the Brighton Festival Fringe.

Set in Bedlam the play centres around Richard Dadd, a painter, who had murdered his father, and the efforts of Charles Hood & George Haydon to release him from his madness. They courageously seek reform of the current practice of restraint and punishment. Hood sees the way to his patient's cure through the creation of a sublime and cosy world by use of the arts and forward thinking. Haydon believes that a cure can only be achieved through him talking to the patient and by looking back at his actions. It is the clash of these ideas that provide the tension of the play and it is only through the perception of a fellow inmate, Emily Clayton, that Haydon begins to understand that it is the patient that needs to talk and to be listened to if the root cause for his action is to be faced.

This point, of the importance of just listening to people in emotional crisis, is extremely pertinent to The Samaritans movement, in conjunction with whom the production was presented.

Jason Courtis provided the right degree of zeal as the reforming Hood who is forced to compromise and jettison Haydon's discoveries and by doing so loses his friendship and respect. Steve Cornthwaite's performance as Haydon was most moving in those scenes where having befriended Dadd he is forced to abandon him.

Equally moving were the encounters between Dadd and Emily Clayton – a painter and a poetess. Justin Saunders' transition from a wretched and tormented soul to one of relative peace was a joy to behold whilst Victoria Gould made the sad journey in reverse. The ferocity of her change from touching moments of gentleness to fury was truly terrifying.

Complementing these four quality performances were those from Peter Faulkner as the Male Warden and Peta Taylor, the Ward Sister. They represented the old guard, believing in restraint and punishment and hostile to the reforms.

My only reservation was about the misconception of having a screen on stage showing slides throughout the performance. It did nothing to enhance the production – quite the reverse it distracted from the words and the action. Having created a marvellous set that reproduced the claustrophobic atmosphere of the asylum the intrusion of these images destroyed that effect. One hoped that this was realised on the opening night and done away with for subsequent performances.

Barrie Jerram