‘What does it mean to be a human?’
Though not at all comfortable viewing, this show will leave a mark.
Voiced explicitly at one moment during this equal parts captivating, inviting and horrifying production, the question of the very nature of humanity is wrestled with. It is to An Account of a Savage’s credit that it demands active consideration of such issues, from the striking opening image of a wild girl (the titular ‘savage’) apparently crucified, through scenes of cruelty, transgression and surprising beauty until we come full circle back to the beginning – a neat and orderly structural device which manages to contain within it raw passions, instincts and animalistic responses, and not only from the ‘savage’.
Intimately housed in a fairly confined performance space, the senses are assaulted throughout, with a soundtrack providing a pervasive undertone to the action, enhancing and foregrounding the rapid changes of style and emotion which contribute to the on-edge nature of the piece. Accompanied by stark lighting, visual effects, and primal screams – which go on long enough so as to become fittingly uncomfortable – the overall effect is one of apprehension as to which sense is to be attacked next. The thrust configuration of the stage space permits an analysis of the reactions of fellow audience members to particularly shocking moments, and this too serves to dehumanise the savage as we become aware of our complicity in observing what is being done in order to ‘civilise’ her.
All performers are worthy of praise in this performance, adapting to the various functions of their characters seamlessly and, despite the heightened stylisation of particular episodes, largely believably. Great credit must be given to Louise Catherwood as ‘Joan’ (the name attributed to the savage). Her role is particularly challenging, but her utter absorption in the character is wholly convincing and not a little disturbing. She moves between all-consuming rage, devastating confusion, gentle tenderness and maniacal laughter with formidable control, never once relenting in her focus and dedication to the character.
Running alongside the increasingly desperate methods of the doctors to work upon Joan are several strands of love which provide a wonderful contrast to the more horrifying moments. Indeed, episodes featuring Joan discovering the surprises contained within a music box, and in sharing a cake, have been directed with a sensitivity leading to genuine pathos for her condition. The occasional smiles of Joan, though rarely seen, become heart-warming gems amidst a plethora of more disturbing and exaggerated emotional responses. Though not at all comfortable viewing, this show will leave a mark.