Sanctuary

If you are looking for some respite from hackneyed scripts and dodgy accents, you are not going to find it in Sanctuary.

Taking a stand and trying to make your voice heard is admirable, but too much of it is told from a perspective of privilege.

Written and performed by Susanne Sulby, this one woman show is trying to do something quite admirable: examining how war affects women around the world, which is partly why it comes as such a disappointment. The majority of the show's running time is spent with three women, their views and personal relationship to war. Characters are only ever seen in short bursts, so it never feels like anyone is given proper room to breathe and develop.

A Bosnian prisoner of war has the most potential but is underused and underdeveloped. It feels like Sulby finds this character the most difficult to write and relate with - ironic, considering the point of the show.

The journalist says about three lines before you realise at some point she's going to do a rousing speech like Peter Finch in the 70s newsroom satire Network. Until that point, her character only serves to remind us of how many wars there have been and draw parallels between them.

Behind the reporter we are shown scenes of horror from WWI to the present day. This is a nice idea but doesn’t quite work and it times it only serves to demonstrate what appears to be a lack of understand of the minutiae of each conflict. Lumping the Nazis and Isis together comes across as naïve.

The most developed character is an apparent stay at home mother that I guess is based on Sulby. Her cosy American dream is disrupted by all the war on the telly and she decides to take a stand - so far, so good. Unfortunately this amounts to sending some letters to the troops and whining. At no point does this character ever consider to analyze the power structures of the west and why they propagate conflict. She wants to end all war, but not enough to disturb her privilege.

A couple of other characters pop up, all with baffling accents. One is based on or is meant to be Wilfred Owen, but instead of coming from the Midlands has picked up a muddled West Perthshire accent.

A real misstep is a Japanese character that comes dangerously close to using Engrish. She has the clunkiest lines in the show managing to fit in origami, kimonos, and "atomic bomb disease" in a thankfully short space of time. Yes, the monologue is inspired by and uses direct quotes from a Hiroshima survivor, but it feels a lot gets lost in a direct translation.

I really wanted to like this show and for what it is worth, Susanne Sulby is a fine actor when she sticks to voices she can do. But Sanctuary comes across as disingenuous. There is no real depth or analysis within the script. Taking a stand and trying to make your voice heard is admirable, but too much of it is told from a perspective of privilege.

Reviews by James W. Woe

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A dynamic multimedia performance, Sanctuary focuses primarily on three female characters: a mother bombarded by television broadcasts of destruction and death, a detached war correspondent, and a POW in Kosovo. All three are deeply affected by the brutality and senselessness of war. Each seeks refuge, sanctuary, from its violence. Incorporating writings from Rumi's poetry to soldiers’ emails, Sanctuary follows the intransigence of war throughout history. A theme emerges: one war is like another, as seen in the compelling use of video footage from conflicts spanning the last century. Can we possibly break the cycle? Yes.

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