The New Wolsey Young Company Present The Laramie Project – a heavy hitting documentary-style play about a hate crime in the US that attracted worldwide attention in 1998.
In the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old student was tied to a fence post, severely beaten, robbed, tortured and left to die. He was found after 18 hours and died 5 days later. The reason for hate crime? He was gay.
The hate crime around Matthew Shepard’s murder brought sexual discrimination and violence to the forefront of the world. The Tectonic Theatre Project travelled to Laramie in the aftermath with the intent of creating a theatrical portrait of the event and the impact it had on the community, and the rest of the world. They returned several times and conducted more than 200 interviews – it has been hailed as one of the most captivating and encompassing pieces of contemporary theatre.
The New Wolsey Young Company took on this piece of drama for 6 performances at the New Wolsey Studio last week. Obviously wanting to challenge themselves, not only with a difficult subject matter but also the format of the piece: multiple characters and only 10 actors.
The stage setting was more unusual for the Studio – the ‘stage’ was in the centre of the room and the audience was on all four sides, therefore the actors were performing 360. There was no scenery, only the use of lighting and two stationery rectangular blocks that were used as benches, platforms…whatever was needed. The 10-strong cast were seated amongst the audience when they were not being a character. The young actors played their core character but also chipped in performances from other characters, don’t forget, this piece is based on interviews, therefore the actors are speaking the words from the people who were there experiencing this extraordinary event in their lives.
To help the audience with the character changes, there was a quick announcement of who they were. It was impossible to keep track otherwise as there wasn’t any costume changes, just barely a hat or a pair of spectacles, but to be honest apart from making the connection with the actor’s core character, it didn’t quite matter who they were representing, the words being performed were more important.
The performance wasn’t in two traditional halves either, it was a 2 hour 15 min show and the second half was around 35 minutes. This worked, as the storyline was so involved and the performance emotional, you really would not want to break the moment with an interval – it came at the right part of the story.
From start to finish I was engaged with the actors. The story was interesting, revealing, disturbing and emotional and these young actors portrayed the characters with elegance. It was fast-paced and there was a lot of dialogue, I felt they wanted to do justice to the people of Laramie, who only asked to be portrayed correctly. Their emotions came through and I believed the actors. Their accents were realistic and more importantly consistent. They had all obviously worked hard at getting this performance right, a shame it was on for such a short stretch and at a small theatre, but how lucky were we to have seen it.
This performance from Young Company was absolute class and should have been on a bigger stage for more people to enjoy and experience. Noticeably outstanding performances from a couple of these young actors.
The New Wolsey Young Company Cast:
Fred Double, George Howarth, Hector Everard, Izzy Clarke, Joe Last, Maddie Wegg, Melina Synadinou, Noah Seeley, Tess Black, Tom Beattie, Tom Hendry
This review first appeared on GrapevineLIVE
Photo @ Mike Kwasniak