It’s not every play that starts with a reaffirmation of one of the basic fundamentals of theatre: that things which aren’t true can be imagined, and that what can be imagined can also be true. Yet there’s a sense that this new play from Terra Incognita, written by Victoria Beesley and inspired by the experiences of young carers, is quite conscious of how many of its younger audience members might not be natural theatre goers. This is about sharing worlds and experiences, of reaching out, and of celebrating both the artificiality and power of live theatre.
both entertaining and thought-provoking in the best way possible.
It is, we’re told at the start, also the story of a boy, Robbie, and a woman, his mother. She has always believed that imagination is the most important possession anyone can have, and so Robbie’s early childhood was one full of games, stories, and wondrous flights of imagination. We’re also told that its a habit he finds hard to break; he’s a bit of a daydreamer. This is despite the consequences of “the Incident”, his mother’s stroke which changed the balance of their lives. Robbie now essentially cares for her 24/7.
The heart of the play is Robbie’s belief that he’s finally become invisible, whether it’s to friends or the classroom bully; and, while we’re never entirely sure of the reality of this—a talking ginger cat isn’t usually an indicator of reality—the emotional truth of his situation certainly feels all too real. Composer Dan Beesley, providing a nuanced musical ambiance with his electric guitar, arguably isn’t the greatest actor in the world, but he certainly shares the stage with two dazzling performers—Michael Abubakar and Rosalind Sydney—who inhabit their roles totally. Sydney, in particular, excels in giving life to a succession of sharply defined characters; both, however, switch smoothly between in-character dialogue and Brechtian direct-to-the-audience narration.
Invisible Army, admittedly, isn’t always an easy watch; tonally, it switches constantly from light-hearted comedy to serious drama, fantasy to the mundane minutia of our everyday lives. There’s one scene in particular which is emotionally brutal; arguably, its power is in the fact that it’s by no means a relief to later learn that it was only imagined. Although the choreography by Tony Mills feels sometimes intrusive, it’s equally vital—a visual metaphor of Robbie being pulled in numerous directions by homework, bullies and his own worries about leaving his mother alone unnecessarily.
Director Emily Reutlinger has brought together a show which utilises its performance space well, with effective use of sound and lighting to suggest shifts in location and the emotional shifts in Robbie’s life. If there’s one aspect that perhaps doesn’t entirely work, it’s two short attempts at audience participation, although the participant was certainly gently handled on the night of this review.
The titular Invisible Army are all those people, especially young people, who are “doing things nobody sees”. It’s sometimes said that no good drama comes from being “issue-led”, but Terra Incognita would appear to have proved otherwise thanks to their approach to the subject and the way it’s told on stage. The result is a work of theatre that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking in the best way possible.