Schism at the Park Theatre
Schism at Park Theatre
Failed architect Harrison had plans to end his life. The last thing he needed was Katherine, a young student, breaking into his house begging for his help… As their chaotic first encounter turns into the beginning of a twenty year relationship, the unlikely couple grow to realise that they are capable of either building something great together – or absolutely destroying each other.
This play I am going to say to begin with, is one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen for a while. The space at Park 90 is transformed into Harrison’s living room, complete with a run down sofa, a simple bare work desk, it is the truest definition of spartan living devoid of any personal touches, except for a small hand-drawn picture on the wall. The atmosphere is set from the off with the room filled with smoke, and with the lighting split and angled, you get the idea that this is a place of despair.
As you enter we can see Harrison sprawled out on the sofa. The sound that comes in at times gives us an ominous sense of dread, that something bad is on the horizon, but also has a very haunting and somewhat ghostly presence, especially at points of action when we find Harrison arguing with what may be himself or possibly his own conscience in the image of Katherine.
Lily McLeish’s direction is great, the journey we go on with both characters is clear and the message of the obstacles a young woman must overcome in relationships is apparent. The use of radio announcements, eerie flashing lamps, and on stage costume changes stops us from noticing any possible pause in-between scenes, allowing for the plot to flow seamlessly.
I must also congratulate lighting and sound designers Dan Saggars and Pete Malkin for their work which was truly inspiring. Harrison begins the play recording what seems to be his side of ‘the story’, the story of his relationship with Katherine, how they helped and hindered each other as they strived for their dreams and ambitions that to some seemed to not be in touch with reality.
Harrison played by Jonathan McGuiness, shows us an intelligent, yet deflated and despairing failure of a man, who was once so ambitious to the point of sabotaging his own prospects. “sometimes that’s how the land lies…. Form follows function…” he clings to Katherine as she stops him feeling useless but this soon turns sour when the student begins to surpass the master. McGuniess give us a man, one that feels entitled and although we feel for him, you could feel the audience hold their breath and hate him as just like a wounded animal, Harrison, when backed into a corner will go for the jugular and come out fighting. Sadly, Harrison is the mirror, showing us those innate ugly human qualities that we all have inside us. McGuiness, to outstanding affect, gives us a reflection of ourselves, one that is not pretty but hard to deny or look away from.
Katherine, is played by the playwright, Athena Stevens gives us a straight talking, highly intelligent and ambitious woman. Although as a fourteen year old she may have some boundary issues, we see her grow up and take ownership of her own life. Stevens uses sarcasm and dry humour to tell us things that an audience would find uncomfortable to hear otherwise. Something that I was sad to realise, but Stevens does this so well and in accordance with her character, who is rather childish in some of her retorts, was to bring the house down with laughter yet when reflecting on her words you hear the stark and painful truth that only Katherine can deliver. Stevens also delivers wonderful moments of vulnerability and pain in a very brutal and honest way, but overall Katherine is incredibly sassy and the line that I feel speaks for her character in all her entirety was “ I am not going to let my pain stop me from building something great…”
In the first half I will admit that I was expecting a big twist, or theatrical moment, that I have been conditioned to look for and at times the performance seemed to allude to. Then I realised upon the climax of the show, that the main reason I loved this play tonight was that there was no need for one. Watching two people, their struggles together, and apart superbly realised by an outstanding team proves yet again the power theatre has over us.
As a side note, if you do decide to see Schism for yourselves, do yourself a favour and read the foreword to the play. I can only thank Athena Stevens for her words and helping to open my eyes a little wider.
Review by Elle Janus.
To find out more about Schism visit Park Theatre’s website.