On Ego by Mick Gordon

Many theatre companies oversell their wares with outrageous hyperbole. Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective has done quite the opposite in their understated description. On Ego is a towering work of theatrical achievement that potently combines remarkable acting with moving effects.

It is entirely appropriate that a play with this title should become a well-deserved ego boost to a team of aspiring young theatre practitioners.

The steeply raked benched seating of the Sanctuary Theatre at Zoo has the feeling of a lecture theatre, making it a clever choice for this production. In the opening scene, Oliver Henn, as Alex, gives a masterclass in presentation and the use of gesture. The context is his fascinating lecture on aspects of neuroscience. That may not be everyone’s idea of a fun night out, but with his accent, phrasing and tonal variations accompanied by intriguingly expressive hand and facial gestures, it becomes a wondrous piece of theatre.

While one part of the play is concerned with futuristic teleporting, the heart-rending drama lies in the relationship between Alex and his wife Alice. Yoshika Colwell, in a remarkably sensitive performance, delicately drip feeds the symptoms of Alice’s decline, which climaxes in a scene with Alex that had me and many others reaching for the Kleenex. Combined with the overall impact of the production, I had still not fully recovered from it an hour or more later.

Appearing initially as the lab assistant with some very funny moments, Harry Whittaker takes up the role of Derek: a professor and Alice’s father. He maintains his sense of humour, but lends maturity, wisdom and passion to his major role. It befits the play that there is a dynamic chemistry between these three highly accomplished actors.

Supporting the on-stage saga is a stunning array of carefully interwoven sound, visual effects, music and film assembled by Tom Leatherbarrow, Ella Dixon, Izzy Marsh, Anna Mawn and composer Scott J Hurley. White dividers, specifically designed and constructed to allow for smooth and effortless movement, delineate the various scenes. Credit here to designers Anna Mawn and Will Heyes. Select use of physical theatre techniques and dance interludes, from movement director Amy Warren, adds another dimension to the work at key moments.

With her creative producer, Katie Barclay, and producer and DSM, Vanessa Ostick, director Lauren Moakes had an impressive and supportive to team to help create this masterpiece. There can be no doubt that she used all their skills to the full and then invested the production with her own imagination.

It is entirely appropriate that a play with this title should become a well-deserved ego boost to a team of aspiring young theatre practitioners. Some plays disappoint, some please and others leave you in awe. There can be no doubt on which end of the scale On Ego is to be found.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

What are we? Skin, bone and one hundred billion brain cells? Is there more to it? How does the darkness inside our skulls become a world of people and places, pleasure and pain, love and loss? Alex is a neuroscientist who seems to have all the answers, but after an experiment goes wrong, he is forced to face the truth about his identity. A dynamic, physical, multimedia exploration of relationships, humanity and what it means to be unique. 'This will stick in the mind days after encountering it' (York Vision). ‘Poignant and always impassioned’ (LondonTheatre1.com).