Thursday, September 14, 2006
No Obvious Trauma is a play set in a mental institution in 1933. Two doctors, Dr Weaver and Dr Crawley go about their work, discussing patients and researching papers for their upcoming conference. They are young and optimistic, with hopeful aspirations for their asylum.
One day, a new patient, Ruth, arrives. She flummoxes Dr Crawley with her lack of speech, and he endeavours to investigate her condition.
However, when Dr Weaver sees her for the first time, it sends him on a spiral of memory, missed opportunity and lost love, for she is the very image of Charlotte, with whom he was romantically entangled whilst in Zurich in the past.
The play is a visual delight, combining dance, puppetry and simple sets with tea-dance music and clever use of the sparse stage - drawers become suitcases, wheels of a train, screens are doors, receive projections and provide sillhouettes.
The small cast provides the atmosphere of the echoing-corridor asylum nicely, with strong, slick performances from each actor. Ruth in particular gave a convincing performance of cortorted anguish and rigid fear. Her 'melting' during the course of the play is synonymous with her healing and improvement.
Ruth's condition is based on hysteria and within the play we see the susceptibilities of different personalities to emotional ties and classical themes, such as the over involvement of doctor and patient. I was struck by the dedication of the doctor to his patient, whether alluding to flaws in our modern system or merely praising the old traditional practices.
No Obvious Trauma is an ambiguous tale, with much left open to the imagination. The plot approaches cliche without crossing that line, and in that respect I felt the first act to be more thrilling and satisfying - the manner of explanation in the second act is a difficult plot sequence to convey.
The puppetry reminded me of the 1999 film Being John Malkovich. The use of light and shadow gave the performance a sinister edge, perhaps alluding to the power a doctor wields over his patient, especially given the context of a mental institution. Overall, this was a very enjoyable show, and I would thoroughly recommend it.