As I Lay Dying - review by Sita Thomas

As I Lay Dying
Wednesday 7 December 2011, 1.30pm, 2 hours 30 minutes running time
Webber Douglas Studio, Central School of Speech and Drama

As I Lay Dying is the production showcasing the talents of the final year Collaborative and Devised Theatre BA students at Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD), and what a production it was to celebrate the magnificent array of talent within this ensemble.

The fifteen-strong ensemble, under the direction of Yael Shavit, have adapted Faulkner’s 1929 novel which is no mean feat. Shavit in a director’s note describes how ‘The story of one poor family’s troubled journey to town is passed through the shifting perspectives of fifteen different characters and this inevitably presents an extremely difficult dramaturgical challenge for Shavit to navigate, and she did so to great effect. Following the death of Addie Bundren, hauntingly played by Beatrice Scirocchi, her family and friends negotiate their way along a dirt-trodden path in Mississippi full of toil and trouble ever-plagued by her bodily and spiritual presence.

It was wonderful to see collaborations at work not only between the actors but also between the production team, BA Theatre Practice students at CSSD, and it was the fruits of these collaborations that managed to convey the heat, humidity and earthiness of Mississippi in such a rich manner for the audience. The elemental qualities were established beautifully by Joana Dias with her set-design that saw the audience divided into four seated sections surrounding the action, the floor of which was covered in earth that several of the characters plodded across in bare feet. Lit with an oppressive orange wash that changed as the elemental forces shifted and encroached upon the piece from the red fire of the stables burning to the blue of the raging river, Lighting Designer Genevieve Peck did a wonderful job. We could absolutely sense the world that these characters inhabited and along with the character and ensemble work, Faulkner’s story was brought to life in a masterful manner.

The movement work done by the company contributed to the absolute sense of the world of Mississippi as you could read the atmosphere in the actor’s bodies. Naomi Ackie as Cora Tull particularly shone as she moved with the weary soul of a woman taking comfort in her religion as did Simon Lyshon whose psychological journey was mirrored in his physicality ending in the mesmerising act of his suppression. As well as the excellent work done by all of the actors in embodying their characters, there were several large scale movement pieces overseen by Movement Coach Helen Heaslip and Assistant Movement Director Revital Snir including the creation of horses and carriages with bodies and a few props, a continually extending bridge using bodies and planks of wood, and the breathtaking slow-motion destruction of a horse and carriage by the oncoming river that culminated in the magical appearance of the ghost of Addie.

Each member of the cast deserves an individual mention in a longer review but for now let it suffice to say that all of the skill and talent on display in this production served to tell this story in such an inventive way and came together to produce a production of aplomb and finesse. Keep an eye out for these stars of the future.

Addie Bundren Beatrice Scirocchi
Anse Bundren Michael Frank
Darl Bundren Simon Lyshon
Cash Bundren George Evans
Jewel Bundren Jesse Fox
Dewey Dell Stella Taylor
Vardaman Bundren Niamh McGowan
Vernon Tull Matthew Springett
Cora Tull Naomi Ackie
Peabody/Gillespie Gethin Alderman
Whitfield Alister Austin
Rachel/Mrs Bundren Rebecca Dickson-Black
Armstid/Jody Stuart Ryan
Moseley/Eula Paula Carson
MacGowan/Samson Jake Waring

© Sita Thomas 2011

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