Scorched

The setting is intimate, and encroaching on the personal space of a frail man, in a battered armchair listening to the television (news of the Gulf War is on – the year is 1991) feels a little intrusive. However, he takes no notice, being absorbed in his occupation of folding a paper airplane. In fact, his entire energies seem to be channelled in this pursuit, to the exclusion of all else that goes on around him. Such is the single-mindedness of this figure, a World War Two hero, who finds himself suffering from dementia, and flitting back and forth between periods of extreme lucidity of memory, and realisation of his present difficulties.

Sky Theatre Company’s innovative use of technical elements, and imaginative handling of stage business, makes Scorched a theatrical experience in the purest sense

Spanning a gap of fifty years between past and present, the challenge for actor Robin Berry is real. With little to demarcate his transitions between the vigour of youth and the infirmity of age save his subtle physicality, the clarity with which the dual personae are presented is impressive, and not a little moving, underscoring as it does the transient nature of life. Berry is convincing in both roles: his rambunctious Geordie soldier, Jack, full of brash energy, forms a stark contrast to the shaking elder he becomes.

Berry’s consummate performance comprises just one part of this absorbing production. As former recipients of Fringe First and Total Theatre awards, Open Sky Theatre Company’s innovative use of technical elements, and imaginative handling of stage business, makes Scorched a theatrical experience in the purest sense. For a piece so concerned with the nature and importance of memory, the company’s production values ensure that an array of moments and images are ingrained in the minds of viewers. In particular, the use of projection, in a variety of different forms, adds a certain tenderness and beauty to proceedings and somehow enhances the humanity of Jack as he engages directly with his memories.

Though perhaps once or twice lacking pace, the piece connects directly with the audience, bringing us once more into the personal space of Jack’s reminiscences. Dealing with, at times, difficult subject matter, Berry’s presentation ensures that the uplifting notions of camaraderie and nostalgia are brought to the fore in a way that aggrandises the pathos felt as Jack’s decline becomes increasingly apparent towards the end. The final image manages to contain within it all of the ideas explored in the piece, and itself is a suitably abstract depiction of a condition which defies straightforward explanation in concrete terms.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

1941. Egypt. WWII. An escaped German officer. A two-day chase across the brutal Sahara. A triumphant capture. A hero’s return. 1991. England. Jack reigns from the armchair of his rest home, a local legend. Decorated veteran of Tobruk. Former river warden, boxer, horse whisperer, boat builder, charmer, prolific father and husband to a very unhappy wife. Memories are, by his own hand, tattooed on his body but dementia is eroding his mind. As the Gulf War rages, the past drags him back to the scorched sands. Inspired by the writer’s grandfather. Previous Fringe First, Total Theatre Award winners.

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