Unnatural Cycles: A Ghost Story – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Avital Raz

Director: Gillian Lees

At the outset of her trancelike single-hander Unnatural Cycles: A Ghost Story, writer and performer Avital Raz crafts a large circle in salt on the stage floor. Perhaps the idea is to form a protective barrier between Raz’s central character and the duo of demons she summons up from the past.

The first of these concerns coming to terms with the memory of an unloved schizophrenic grandmother, whose traumatic history as a Holocaust survivor the show unfolds in dreadful detail. The second is the bitter anguish and self-reproach the unnamed character feels towards her own body, specifically her inability to have a child. If these two narrative strands do not always intertwine convincingly here, what certainly emerges with great power is the ability of humankind to overcome even the deepest of traumas.

Unnatural Cycles: A Ghost Story is told through an eclectic mix of prose, poetry, beautifully written and hauntingly performed songs, live-looped audio, and filmed back-projections. It is a production approach fraught with technical challenges; one which runs the risk of overloading the senses and detracting from a unified piece of drama. But so brilliantly is it executed that the show conjures up a surreal liminal space between this character’s reality and the dreams she escapes to.

In this other-worldly place, we are never quite sure if the character is awake, asleep, or in some state midway between the two. Wherever she is, what the story delivers is a stark and utterly compelling insight into one woman’s struggle to deal with unimaginable emotional agony. In its structure this show is quite unlike anything you may have seen before. Distinctive, compulsive, and truly individual, it is very nearly closer to art installation than theatre.

Jerusalem-born writer Raz developed Unnatural Cycles: A Ghost Story after a year of listening to recordings in which her own grandmother described her experiences surviving the Holocaust. These included the loss at Auschwitz of her entire extended family, a brutal rape at the hands of former schoolmate tuned collaborator, and survival only at the cost of temporarily renouncing her faith. During her troubled lifetime these events were a malign spirit, there in the background of her mental illness but never talked about; a trauma to be passed on, unresolved, to subsequent generations. Raz confronts this pain head-on, as she does her own anguish about infertility. It is not an easy watch, but it is remarkable, life-affirming work.

Runs until 29 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Remarkable, life-affirming drama.

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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