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Shaken – The Actor’s Centre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Mariana Lafon

When Mexico experienced two devastating earthquakes in 1985 and 2017, they inspired a community to hunt for survivors as well as campaign against the government’s ineffectual administration. Mariana Lafon has been inspired by the natural disaster to create her 30-minute film Shaken which uses a series of sketches to examine the immediate aftermath and consequences of a tremor that she believes is rooted in political negligence.

When voices are heard under the rubble, a search party is quickly instituted to find the survivors sending in a small man who can fit through the gaps. Meanwhile a mother cares for her injured baby, a woman who has lost her family prepares drinks for the excavation team and a patriotic dancer argues the national celebration day caused the ground to tremble. Only the politician seems unmoved by the human cost of the disaster.

Shaken is effectively a call to arms for Mexican citizens and a message to the wider world about solidarity and rebirth. Lafon’s film is largely a polemic and, while that rarely makes for a consistent narrative, she is an impassioned advocate of Mexico’s resilience and cultural contribution through dance, puppetry and music included in the show.

Initially the structure is confused; addressing the camera directly, Lafon insists we all need to help with the search for survivors as she comically collects equipment strewn around the half-built room that doubles as the post-earthquake centre of rescue activities. But Shaken is not an interactive experience and the character is not really talking to the audience and instead Lafon insists she wants to know why the event happened – although that too is only sporadically examined.

Subsequently, the audience is shown a series of brief but evocative character studies of people affected by the event. Some are moving including the frightened mother singing a lament while cradling her child, and the woman who finds solace in volunteering. Lafon also plays with shot selection as the camera focuses in on the swishing skirt of the dancer or reflects a rescuer’s headcam as his torch seeks out survivors, which add variety.

Sometimes the performance feels hollow against the political and physical space Lafon has chosen for her film. The scene with the callous and corrupted leader relies on a stick-on moustache and a sock puppet that sits uncomfortably with the tone of the rest, while the opening segment in which a woman emerges from the debris feels too theatrical in the concrete surroundings of the filming location.

There are things to admire in Shaken and Lafon’s performance as the many characters creates distinction and nuance but the balance between storytelling and political rally is never quite in harmony. An history lesson with empathy for its subjects but the purpose of Shaken to expose why the earthquakes happened gets a little lost in the dust.

Available here until 29 November 2020

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