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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

Idiot Colony
At the New Theatre Royal
Director: Andrew Lawson
Nina Aumaitre at the New Theatre Royal

I went to see the play ‘The idiot colony’ having only read the brief description of the play in the theatre’s programme; to be honest I don’t believe I would have picked it out or felt drawn to it if I had just flicked through this season’s new productions at the New Theatre Royal. But sometimes it takes a friend to take that initiative for you.

It took me by surprise. I found myself leaning forward on my seat so as to see past the tall man sat in front of me. This play was lifted from the coffin of time, in which the story had been nailed shut and after four years of research it was been given a voice again. This is the true story of three women, incarcerated for life in a Midlands asylum during the 1940’s.

Three actresses, three main characters: Joy, Mary and Victoria. The character that struck me the most was Joy. Institutionalised for having an affair with an American soldier, she eradicates a sense of humour filled with dark cynicism and bitterness. Then completing the picture with a contrast are the characters of Mary and Victoria. Victoria locked in her mutism has to express her story through metaphors and physical theatre, like the stones which come out of her mouth. To get her story you have to watch closely as she reveals her story, then Mary, with her childlike innocence and wide eyed expression, a little girl hiding a sad secret.

During the play the walls of the asylum are constantly shifting as the stories of these three women is told. Their flashbacks un-tuning the reality as their last moments in a world that is no more; gushes into their tiled prison. They do all this with minimalist props and set which serves that idea of illusion even more; towels become beds, and then with a simple change of music and light the hairdressing salon melts away to become a cinema. We also see them interacting with invisible characters and I was amazed at how it only added to the effect. The three characters also take on the extra roles of the doctor and nurses.

The story plays out in 70 minutes, the start is very slow; but its relevance was later explained in the 10 min questions and answers session (which I was strongly recommend to go to, and will come back to in a second). At some points in the play you’ll probably feel confused, like looking at an abstract painting for the first time, just let your own reading of what you see be the making of your judgement. Throughout the play no meaning is forced on you, it is my understanding that the actors aim isn’t to answer all the questions that their stories raise, it is more to give a chance to those three women and other people whose lives where thus disposed of, to be heard.

To those who hesitate on going because of having children I’d say, for the younger the play might be quite difficult to relate to but starting from young teen I don’t see why not. It is a play which will give you more that the usual fast food production which wilts as soon as you step out of the auditorium. Maybe an experience they will only appreciate when looking back at it, but still worth sharing it with them. There are a few scenes treating sexual matters, some in a serious manner others more humorously but in no way crude.

Coming back to the 10 minute session of open questions: depending on the Theatre you might have the option to stay at the end of the play for a few more minutes to talk with the actresses, if so do go! Whether, it is to get answers to those questions which cropped up during the play or to discover more about the creation of the play itself. For me it completed the play and when someone asked how many times they’d performed it and the actress who played Mary answered ‘About a 100 times now, but every time we feel that the performance changes and our character develop a bit more’ I knew it would be a play that I would gladly see again.

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