“If you don’t like me at my worst… then we have something in common”
Theatre Paradok’s production of Deficit, directed by Maddie Flint and a part of this year’s Edinburgh Alternative Theatre Festival, comes at cataclysmic odds with the usually substandard expectations which arise at the mention of devised student theatre.
Upon entering unusual venue the Wee Red Bar, one is ushered into a small area taking up about half of the total floor space. Although theatre in the round always poses the risk of obscuring important moments for portions of the audience, this was never the case in this production. Entertaining the possibility of an audience member becoming broken-nosed due to a miscalculated dance kick always spurs a nervous thrill, but nevertheless the small space excellently enhanced the performance to follow.
At the core of Deficit is the heavy influence of Scottish mythology, a dimension of Scotland seldom explored in student art, establishing a precedent of intrigue and uniqueness for the production. Five performers each embody the essence of a folkloric creature, each serving as a vessel by which to explore both everyday occurrences and more complex, universal, human emotions. Selkie, Wulver, Beira, Kelpie, and Poltergeist interact with each other and their own thoughts not often through words but primarily a series of physical movement and dance sequences, and short films.
Had the cast not been so talented, the show could have easily missed the mark. As is with most non-conventional, surreal styles of theatre, the decisive factor of the performance’s energy ultimate lies with the actors – and the Deficit cast did not fall short.
The control the actors possessed over their movements was especially impressive, seeming as if they had power and command over every muscle composing their bodies.
The show gained pace after the initial dance sequence, which, although lighthearted and enjoyable, could have benefitted from more attention to timing and synchronisation, especially as it served as the introduction to the characters and story.
However, it certainly did not take away from the overall choreography. The rest of the scenes with physical movement and dance sequences were flawless, on-beat and very professional.
Amelia Chinnock-Schumann’s dance solos as Beira were a definite highlight, filling the shoes of the mythical representation of winter excellently: strong yet vulnerable, poised and grounded. Yann Davies and Daniele Silvan, playing Selkie and Wulver respectively, must also be mentioned, as their roles proved a challenge they seemed to effortlessly undertake, demonstrating extensive experience in dance – easily alternating between delicate, fluid motions and more harsh and heavy movements.
The sections that explored the relationship between these three particular characters were of notable brilliance. Fraser Kelsey also gave an impressive performance as the mischievous and playful Poltergeist – the high energy and animation he showed was a much-needed element in the balancing out of the other presences on stage. However, it was his ability to uphold that level of energy throughout the entirety of the show that was most incredible.
Lastly, Sarah Parker’s rendition of Kelpie was unquestionably lovely – her mature aura was very well conveyed. She almost convinced the audience that a technical error in the show was meant to happen.
On the note of the more technical dimensions of the production, the films shown throughout the show were simply beautiful. They were very well made, aesthetically enchanting, funny, touching and complemented the onstage action fantastically.
The Deficit production crew found the right balance when incorporating these media elements, knowing exactly what they were doing in using the films to supplement the audience’s understanding without spoon-feeding information.
This allowed the audience to better grasp how it was that the five characters were not just surreal manifestations of a myth, but a part of us, a fraction of a reflection of us in our everyday, cotidian lives.
Overall, Deficit is powerful, moving and very entertaining to watch. It is proof that alternative, student-devised theatre is not bound for mediocrity. This show is truly a rare of example of it done right.
Wee Red Bar
Image: via Deficit Theatre/Theatre Paradok