At the Broken Places

The mixture of teenage angst and guns never ends well, but proves to be a gripping formula for TV, film and drama cashing in on the world’s fascination with high school shootings. This sobering production by Savio(u)r Theatre Company (a company which includes actors from both America and Britain) holds back from depicting the shootings themselves, but instead shows us a community struggling to face up to its past twenty years later. On the twentieth anniversary of a fatal shooting, Sierra High School is organising a play reenacting the tragedy that has made their school synonymous with violence for so many years. A wearied headteacher, a zealous father of a dead son, a fanatically religious mother, and a drama teacher in way over his head, are some of the adults who fight themselves and each other on the edges of this planned production. The young cast, who weren’t even alive at the time of the shootings, are dealing with their own crises of self as they try to embody their parents’ twisted classmates. This makes for a gripping and emotional play, and Joseph Horton’s script tempers teenage melodrama with adult cynicism, creating a well-balanced and tightly written piece. Though the school and event are fictional, extracts from the diaries of the killers at Columbine and other schools have been used to give the monologues a rawly visceral quality. Jamie Biddle pulls off these speeches as Nic-playing-Kit with the manic enthusiasm of a kid who plays too many computer games. As the play progresses and Nic gets more involved in Kit’s character, and the dead begins to influence the living a little too much, Biddle’s performance can err towards the pantomimic. The quieter Eli (an excellent Kieran Hennigan) becomes much more interesting next to his brash friend, giving the audience an opportunity to consider the potential within ourselves to become killers. These are just a couple of the intense performances that make this such an involving piece. Zoe Swenson-Graham displays extraordinary skill, switching between the over-enthusiastic teenage Melissa and Kim McDonald who desperately clings to her faith at the expense of her daughter. Clare Latham is spot-on as the headteacher trying to hold it all together, while John-Christian Bateman is an intensely emotional Ed Marks, unable to let go of his dead son. Some of the looks and glances exchanged cannot have been scripted, and are the result of either brilliant direction or an innate ability for naturalism in the cast. Other directorial decisions enhance the atmosphere; using audio footage from real shootings for scene changes grounds the play in reality, while having the whole cast on stage at all times, scribbling at the back like school kids creates a claustrophobia and intensity the play needs. This is a slick and well-put together production that leaves room for thought.

Reviews by Louisa-Claire Dunnigan

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The Blurb

Follow the teachers and students of fictional Sierra High School as they stage an account of the massacre that occurred at their school twenty years earlier, hoping finally to destigmatise a school synomymous with violence. www.saviourtheatrecompany.com

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