Scan Artists is a multi-faceted performance by The Bridge Theatre Company – comprised of 13 Brit School students – that manages to effortlessly blend song, movement and strong visuals with a thought-provoking script by award winning playwright, Evan Placey. The script follows 18 year old dancer Jenna as she comes to terms with her life, relationships and her body after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Jenna finds herself in a ward with several other young cancer sufferers and they form ‘the Braided Circle’, a regular group therapy session wherein the patients meet to compare experiences and to sing. This choir formation becomes a vital plot device, as the build up to a choir competition provides a compelling force that moves the narrative forward to its climactic ending.
Emotionally engaging and, as the lights came up and the applause commenced and died, many handkerchiefs stealthily appeared in the hands of red-eyed audience members who had become thoroughly invested in the lives of the characters presented onstage.
The biggest asset to the piece were the brief monologues, which were all excellently performed by the young cast with a level of emotion that can only be described as quietly heightened, an intense under-surface bubbling of anger that would occasionally escape only to be replaced by despairing acceptance. The male patients in the ward were outstandingly performed by actors Jamahyl Chan-Ellis, Victor Alli and Paul Brown, with special praise going to Paul Brown for his portrayal of deaf and mute Patrick. Brown’s monologue was performed entirely in sign language, a courageous decision for an audience that would be mostly oblivious to the content; however the movement of his hands, his expression and his repetition of the phrase ‘hear me’, turned the language into a rhythmic movement piece that was dizzyingly compelling for any spectator.
The brief interludes of endearing theatricality were lovely to observe, notably the opening wherein a soundscape of homemade hospital noises welcomed the audience into the auditorium – noted by my medic companion as being ‘strangely accurate’. All of the cast stand framed in doorways, observing the action as Jenna reveals to Angus (her soon to be boyfriend) her recent diagnosis. This unity in observation even before Jenna meets the other patients almost creates an Ancient Greek-esque omniscient chorus as, even though they all had individual characters and stories, this union showed them as a body of action – an interesting parallel to the theme of cancer and how their bodies are harmonising to fight it.
This production had its flaws; however the sheer energy and heart of this promising young company made it a joy to watch. The text showcased some excellent performances, creating anticipation for this new generation of British acting talent. Above all, it was emotionally engaging and, as the lights came up and the applause commenced and died, many handkerchiefs stealthily appeared in the hands of red-eyed audience members who had become thoroughly invested in the lives of the characters presented onstage.