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Death Song – New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

February 9, 2012
Death Song – New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth      Date: Tuesday 11th October, 2011
When I first stepped into the Theatre Auditorium I was confused as to why there were so many chairs on the stage, perhaps part of the opening scene. Wrong. It was for the audience. Death Song is an intimate play that alienates the audience by bringing itself dangerously close to it’s spectators.
When finding our seats, we were greeted by two girls dancing on the chairs for audience members.  Accompanied by loud music, it immediately placed you into an environment of what you were led to believe as fun and carefree. Sound was used throughout the play with perfectly executed timing to build a set with props in front of your eyes, without there actually being any real scenery.
After that period between everyone awkwardly finding a seat and the play actually starting, the music and actors stopped very abruptly creating a tense but intoxicating first atmosphere for each person. Live sound effects and live acoustics carefully built an environment to a dramatic and emotional ending. The acoustics complemented the humid location of the play in Nevada and also added to the Mexican background of the protagonists.
The small stage with very little set left a lot of the play to your imagination. The lighting was also minimal but was used effectively to each scene in an appropriate manner. For example, when the protagonist, Juan, is in jail, there is only a single spotlight, indicating his seclusion and detachment from the world around him. Warm tones of lighting were also used not just on the stage but also on the audience to portray the heat of the Nevada dessert and bring the audience into the play rather than just observing it.
            A conventional head on stage was given a slight twist by not only performing parts of the piece to the right of the audience but within the audience, this became one of my favorite moments of the entire play. Two of the characters are climbing over rocks near the Colorado River. They climb over empty chairs in the audience but even when someone did happen to be sat there, they still managed to make their way through. Combining this with the sound effects of a trickling river, made every audience member feel a part of the production but also gave each member a different experience of the production as each individual would see it from a different angle.
            As the play alienated the audience in a careful manor, it would quickly build tension and suddenly cut it off to another, much calmer scene. This was superbly executed and made you feel awkward when watching the quiet, intimate love scenes to then be suddenly taken into domestic torment. The ending to the entire performance was extremely abrupt but I think this worked well with the style of performance as it ended up being an emotional rollercoaster for not just the characters, but for it’s spectators too.
            All together this piece encouraged a thought provoking outlook and the timing was executed in a such a way that built an environment without needing huge amounts of fancy props, lighting or scenery. I would recommend it to Theatre Study and Drama students for it’s many levels and original thinking.
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