Testament – Hope Theatre, London

Writer: Sam Edmunds

Directors: Sam Edmunds and William Harrison

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

What goes through the mind of a trauma patient in the hours and weeks before their death? Do they relive the incident that put them in hospital, consider heaven and hell or experience episodic fits of lucidity mixed with memories of happier times? Sam Edmunds’ award-winning one-hour play Testament, arriving for four nights at the Hope Theatre, journeys through the mind of one man as he contemplates life and death.

Max wakes up in hospital having survived a serious car crash and a suicide attempt to find his beloved girlfriend Tessa isn’t by his side and no one will tell him why. Brother Chris must decide how much medical intervention is required as fluid builds-up inside Max’s brain causing him to lapse into complex fits and fantasies that flood his mind. In Max’s head as he slowly pieces together the events that led to that fatal night a fight for survival is taking place.

Edmunds intriguing drama is multi-layered examination of the physical, emotional and mental responses to extreme grief that uses a variety of creative techniques to visualise Max’s internal state. The nightmarish memory/illusion sequences are well-staged often using strobe effects and lighting design to create an increasingly uneasy tone as Max’s condition and grip on reality worsen.

A particularly effect sequence places Max on his hospital bed, clearly undergoing a medical procedure to relieve pressure on his brain, but what we see are sinister figures in hospital scrubs, mixed with the headlamps of the car he was driving as well as energetic convulsions choreographed to a series of finger snaps and beats by his shadowy attendants that leave him cowering in the corners of his own mind.

Interestingly, Edmunds uses a happy memory to suggest that Max was always a bit of fantasist and his girlfriend’s birthday card becomes a chance to enact a scene from Gladiator which they play together. Manifesting his trauma visually feels appropriate for the character as well as an engaging examination of the fragmentary nature of memory, conscience and the way in which humanity clings to even the smallest spark of life.

There is work to do in polishing the more lucid scenes however and Testament suffers when characters interact in the real world, and although the first scene with brother Chris and the Doctor is the best there is some clunky exposition. Generally, Edmunds’ writing has a tight rhythm, particularly in the more fantastical sequences, yet some of the dialogue just doesn’t ring true especially when Max is told to “allow the grief to die not you”, so a bit of smoothing would make this a little less awkward.

As Max, Nick Young manages the considerable variations in tone very well, credibly turning loving memories of his girlfriend into more lurid experiences that frighten and plague him. William Shackleton has a difficult role as Chris but could draw-out the survivors’ guilt more fully, while Jensen Gray makes a very believable doctor, delivering medical explanation with confidence and suggesting a professional care for her patient that adds to the overall effect.

Testament takes an imaginative approach to staging that uses a reasonably simple set design to help the play to travel from the hospital to the car crash and various other locations of Max’s dream world. Moments of humour balance well with its more complex themes and with a little refinement, Testament could be even better.

Runs Until: 29 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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