Lamorna Ash has created a powerful and touching exploration of the world of drama therapy, exploring the ways we face our fears and the nature of human pride and its consequences. Drama is about letting go of all ego and being willing to play and enter into a collective mindset; in Circleville, Circlevalley we see various characters using, fighting against, clinging and then surrendering to this concept in a blend of great emotional gravity and poignant moments of comedy.
Minimal set and lighting really worked – anything more would have been unnecessary for a play that depends so much on its words and on the interplay and quality of performances. With only a single lamp to enhance an ordinarily lit room and a few beaten up chairs, the director and cast created a loaded atmosphere that gripped us throughout. Acting was superb – Seamus Lavan, Mary Higgins, Rebecca Hamilton, Isobel Jesper-Jones and Yash Saraf all delivered affecting and truthful performances that displayed a wonderful chemistry. Yash Saraf, in particular, delivered a strikingly unselfish and natural performance, and Mary Higgins took on the difficult role of Sal with great skill in capturing the subtleties of her character.
However, the role of the audience was left uncertain; while it was a nice touch to have the actors mixing naturistically with their audience, it was never clarified whether we were intended to feel part of the group or as onlookers. Direct address from the therapist, Ellen (played by Hamilton), telling us of her plans to ‘fix Circlevalley’ seemed to blur this line, and while the actors sometimes sat among us, they also occupied their own space in the center of the audience so as to seem separate from us even despite their physical proximity.
The conception of Ellen also presented some issues; there was constant ambiguity surrounding her integrity and skill as a therapist, but this remained largely unexplored, while the moments of revelation she had were, arguably, a little heavy-handed. Some more gradual development and revelation would have been more in keeping with Ash’s other characters and given the therapist a greater nuance.
This is a production that can only improve over the course of its Fringe run, its opening preview being a brilliant starting point for such an emotionally complex and topically ambitious show. Circleville, Circlevalley is a really special piece of student writing directed and brought to life by a very talented cast and crew, and definitely something to try and catch in Edinburgh.