The Actualisation Show  – The Blue Elephant Theatre, London

Creators: Ephemeral Ensemble
Directors: Eygló Belafonte and Ramon Ayres
Reviewer: Richard Maguire

The statistics around suicide in Britain are staggering, especially among young adults. For men under 45, suicide is the biggest killer; more than car accidents, more than cancer. Of the 6,000 people who commit suicide a year in this country, over 75% are men. Traditional ideas of masculinity demand that men bottle up their emotions instead of asking for help, either from professionals or from their friends. Ephemeral Ensemble’s new piece The Actualisation Show, using physical theatre and mime, explores how some men conceal their debilitating depression.

Rob Evison and Ramon Ayres play Harley and Pedro, two ‘professional optimists’, who grin and bow profusely to the audience. They are inanely and relentlessly cheerful, and with their upright hair and yellow braces, they are a mixture of Shockheaded Peter and Jedward, of clowns and mime-artists.

To a lively Spanish-style soundtrack, composed by Alex Paton, Harley and Pedro push a proscenium stage on wheels around the floor of The Blue Elephant. In front of the curtains they put on their public faces – happy and positive – but backstage, away from the glare of public scrutiny, they grapple with depression and self-loathing. Here they struggle with communication and alcohol and become strangers to each other. The few words they once had disappear into silence.

While the onstage/backstage metaphor works well to describe the way we present ourselves in public, other metaphors are too obscure. Why, for instance, does the stage get stuck on one of its endless rotations of the floor, and what are the meanings of the little lights that they switch off and on? Sometimes the two men carry canvas bags over their shoulders but we never know what they contain. Is it their troubles?

This vagueness continues right up until the end and we never know whether Pedro, who appears to be coping less well, manages to escape his despair or is still putting on a brave face. It would be useful if the show was clearer in places, more direct about the issues it is discussing. Working with charities, Papyrus, which helps to prevent suicide in the young, and L.A.S. (Life After Suicide), Ephemeral Ensemble’s The Actualisation Show is based on interviews with those affected by suicide, but, frustratingly, Evison and Ayres, or their onstage double act, offer no advice or remedies.

The title of the show is awkward too as it’s difficult to make out what they have created, what they have actualised. The title could allude to the attempt to show what hopelessness looks like, an endless cycle of public cheerfulness and private grief. Without further explanation, this show seems to last longer than its 50 minutes, and its abstract nature alienates the audience. The Actualisation Show undoubtedly has good intentions but it may need to be more straightforward in the presentation of its ideas.

Runs until 28 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

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