A Delightfully Disturbing Theatrical Experience

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A few years ago, Betroffenheit had made its NAC debut and I was so intrigued by the promotional material that this was a show I had really hoped I’d get to see. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that time, so I was delighted to learn that it was returning as part of this years English Theatre season. However, much to my dismay, this was an extra performance that was not a part of the regular subscription package. I had to pay extra if I wanted to see it.

It was worth every penny.

I honestly cannot stress enough how phenomenal this show was.

It is rare that I see an audience so enthralled by a performance.  The curtain had barely closed and people were already jumping out of their seats to deliver a standing ovation, complete with enthusiastic cheers.  It is no surprise that this beautiful creation from Electric Theatre Company and Kidd Pivot is an award winning production.

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Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit looks at Young’s personal experiences with trauma and loss.  The subject matter is dark and unsettling, but it is presented in such a unique and metaphorical way that not only is this performance captivating, but I found it led to a lot of self reflection – I would not be surprised if I was not the only audience member to experience the show in this way.  At no point is the actual sequence of events laid out for the audience.  We are never told exactly what the traumatic moment is, or what is happening now, but we are led to interpret the actions on stage as best we can.  I found that if ever there was a moment that seemed nonsensical or confusing, it helped to think of the events as part of a mental breakdown.  The main character has lived through a traumatic event, they are struggling with addiction, and what we are seeing is most likely coming from the darkest depths of their mind.

Performed by Jonathon Young, Christopher Hernandez, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, and Tiffany Tregarthen, there are no actual characters.  All of them are merely listed as “performer” in the program, and the way the performance has been set up would suggest that each performer is merely a different aspect of the psyche of one person as they attempt to survive the aftermath of a traumatic event.  Young is the “primary” aspect of this psyche as all of the others perform around him.  And he is the only performer on stage who actual gets to deliver any lines.  Any conversations he has are either with inanimate objects or the other performers who are merely mouthing the words – both objects and performers have been dubbed over by a pre-reccorded voice over from Young.  He is essentially talking to himself for the entire show.  Even some of the “music” in the show is an edited mashup of his words being repeated and altered.

The overall tone of the performance was a little disturbing, but in a good way.  Some of the aspects of the performance – strobe lights coupled with jarring noises – reminded me of Theatre of Cruelty, and I feel that based on the subject matter this was an appropriate choice for presenting this exploration of trauma.  I think this is the first time ever that I have been genuinely frightened by a theatrical performance.  During the opening, when electrical wired began to move  on their own through a dimly lit room, I got chills. I am impressed that this production had such a strong emotional impact on me.

But the performance was not always this creepy.  Although the majority of the first act did fill me with this sense of unease, it also had sillier and moments as the mental breakdown we were witnessing was set up almost like some kind of variety show.  There were dancers, singers, and clowns, all representing different elements of this traumatized mind.  However, the second act was completely different, yet still very much a part of the same story.  Act one was presented more as a play with dancing in it, but act two was strictly dance.  This interpretive dance was stripped of the whimsical costumes and creepy set that had been present in act one – all that was left was the raw emotion of the situation that the performers were showcasing.  It was truly a wonderful and thought provoking experience.

Without a doubt, this has been the strongest performance of the 2017/2018 English Theatre Season at the NAC.  I am so glad that I bought myself a ticket, and if ever anyone has the opportunity to see this breathtaking work of art, I suggest you do the same.  I applaud the performers of Electric Company Theatre and Kidd Pivot, and commend them for so skillfully presenting such an emotional and thought provoking piece of theatre.

 

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