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The Witness - Review

Writer: Standing In The Wings

The Witness was performed at Royal & Derngate for two nights to conclude a small regional tour. 
The sacred and profane certainly collided in this new performance by interdisciplinary artist Jo BlakeThis performance is part of a multi-stranded art project called Heresy inspired by the rediscovered Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The Heresy project reframes heresy as a courageous and life-giving act of transgression, that affirms a long-denied lineage of honouring the feminine in spiritual knowledge. 

Photo by Adam Balcomb
The audience entered the auditorium to an open stage with Jo and her co-performer Rob, seated downstage left, casually talking, creating a relaxed environment. Set-wise, there were seven different sized ladders positioned to form a three sided tower (possibly to represent the seven demons Mary faced and the Holy Trinity?) and a river of red thread laid out in different directions, all oozing out of the ladders, incorporated into the performance as linear props. Alongside this, there were six sets of lights positioned on stage right and left providing cross lighting and making for an atmospheric design, particularly for the movement sections.

Not quite a play, not quite a talk, the piece combined storytelling, physical theatre and dance to inform, question and intrigue the audience about their opinion on Mary Magdalene and her story - or legend - from over 2000 years ago. 

Jo began the performance with an explanation of how the piece was commissioned and the journey she and Rob had been on to create the piece we saw in its entirety. The breaking of the fourth wall made for an interesting experience as there were times when Jo and Rob were talking to the audience and then seamlessly became their characters of Mary (Jo) and Jesus, Peter, Simon, Philip, Martha, Lazarus and others (Rob) to tell the story in a more traditional manner. Using physicality and voice, the story unfolded naturally and simply. The storytelling skills of these two performers were excellent and showcased the technicalities needed to make so much dialogue engaging and compelling. 

Photo by Adam Balcomb
The use of contemporary music (instrumental and vocal) along with dance moves added a moving facet to the performance allowing the audience to watch and absorb as well as listen and absorb the text, visuals and story.  There was some clever remixing of sections to create a soundscape out of the tracks, again creating a atmosphere that transported the audience away from an auditorium and into the story. 

Whilst the subject matter may have been for a niche audience (religion and history meshed together in legend, fact and fiction), the production was well planned, thoughtfully and sensitively performed and certainly gave pause for thought on societys view and common opinion of Mary. 

This was the final performance of this production, having toured to other regional venues in the East Midlands area, but Jo Blake and Carbon Theatre clearly have the confidence, knowledge and passion to produce provoking theatre to question, prompt and challenge modern society - and isnt that what art is meant to do?

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