Bruised Sky Productions return to the Fringe for their third consecutive year with their new play Vivarium, a dark production written and directed by Don McCamphill. Centred around the life of a young teen growing up on a council estate in Northern Ireland, Vivarium explores family ties and conflict, criminality, and the persistent hope of a new life.
The stage is divided into two even spaces using subtle differences in lighting. Using a minimalist set consisting of a single chair, the audience are immediately hit with a punchy and poetic piece of writing. McCamphill’s work is dark, visceral, and often funny, making this a very well written piece. While the play begins excellently, it unfortunately loses its focus in the middle as this piece would benefit from being cut in places, particularly for a Fringe show which has a limited time. With an excellent performance from actor John Travers, however, this small pitfall does not detract from the story.
Vivarium is magnificently brought to life by Travers who divides his time between both halves of the stage, taking on two distinct personas. The actor’s sharp delivery of this sombre piece is remarkable. He brilliantly alternates between a drug-addicted father, and his lively, hopeful thirteen-year-old son. What’s more, Travers has a beautiful ability to tie the two together when necessary, performing scenes where both are present without this being contrived. The actor carries the weight of this story through every breath of his performance. Travers’ physical gestures, from a spring in his step as the thirteen-year-old, to sluggishly placing his hands down his pants as the Father, demonstrate a real grasp of the stages of these characters’ lives.
The audience get a real sense of what life might be like for a young boy on an Irish council estate. ‘vivarium’ literally means ‘place of life’, and the production’s place in the theatre provides an environment for which the actor is under constant observation. Using the stage as a micro-climate of the Irish council estate, the actor represents the lives of thousands of people stuck within their own vivarium. Added to this, with family gang culture being at the centre of this story, tender moments, such as Euan’s interest in his class project on growing flowers, provide a welcome contrast from the bleak reality of the adult world. McCamphill continues to weave images of flowers and insects throughout the play which, although overdone, works well as a reminder of the themes of life, innocence and hope.
Overall, Vivarium is heavy and stunning. Travers pours his heart out on stage, delivering this very difficult piece of theatre. It is well written, well directed and exceptionally well performed.
1-27 August 2018 (not 16th)
Photo Credit: Bruised Sky Productions