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‘Shock Therapy’, OUDS New Writing Festival: thought-provoking yet hopeful

Shock Therapy took the audience through various ways of understanding our past, our present and our future, with all three perspectives conditioned by a certain degree of pessimism, disappointment, frustration, but also hope and freedom. The opening scene was expertly choreographed, hectic, chaotic, at times orderly and at times disorderly. The four characters, named A, B, C and D, played by Amelia Holt, Ryan Lea, Kavya Deshpande and Tamar Koplatadze respectively, engaged in looking back on a particular memory, in this case, a static holiday photo. More importantly, they engaged in the construction of this memory, of a reality that never actually existed, one that was sharply different from that lived in the present, or, perhaps, not so different. After all, the memory was effectively acted out and choreographed, and so there is an obvious degree of conflation of the past and the present, to the point that, following their decision to kill off D, their past became much more difficult to idealise. How were the beach towels arranged? Where did the paddling pool go? The three remaining characters then struggled to continue with the process of idealising their past; with D gone, their words and actions became confused and their efforts came to a grinding halt. Inherent in this scene, therefore, was a sense of the performing of a memory and the song-and-dance-like quality of the action set up a powerful tension. As the characters endeavoured to ‘act out’ a static photograph as realistically, or perhaps as idealistically, as they could, they would sometimes fall into their static positions, but never for long, always breaking free in an attempt to augment and exaggerate the memory.

Francesco Reina

The three remaining characters then engaged in the task of pinning balloons to a coat. The absurdity of the task was either augmented or diminished, depending on how one looked at it, by the highly ritualistic character of the exercise. This could have been a comment on how the experience and the seriousness of the exercise was constructed by the social structures, relations and rituals that were obviously not inherent to the physical nature of the task itself. How hard can pinning some balloons to a coat really be? Not really, but again, as with the first scene, a simple task was made more difficult by circumstances and conditions that restricted them from being totally free in the task they were undertaking. The restricting factor in the scene that followed was likewise the very result of their own expectations: when a woman believed that she had defied male sexual aggression, she failed to realise that such defiance was undermined by her own need for male validation. When, in the cafe, she encouraged her partner to ‘eat his heart out’, what did he do but eat her heart out, quite literally. And so, another one bit the dust. However, the play left us with a message of hope, pointing out that the value of life may simply lie in the virtue of itself. With all this in mind, it was impossible not to enjoy this play. There are intellectually challenging plays that make you switch off, and there are intellectually challenging plays with a life of their own, like Shock Therapy, that make you long to know their meaning. Such was the quality of the acting and of the script itself that Shock Therapy was highly thought-provoking, but to an even greater extent, did most of the thinking for me.