Catriona Scott reviews
Hypnotism, magic, blood…to say I was intrigued by the premise of this play would be an understatement. Written by new student playwright Alicia Shultz, Egregore follows the fortunes of a dying carnival whose performers possess an array of unique gifts, ranging from hypnosis to fortune telling. It is not just these characters who are gifted, however; Shultz’s writing – at turns hilarious, at turns poignant – is brilliant, pulling the audience into the world she has created and refusing to let it go as events at the carnival take their unexpected turns. The attention to detail in the writing, which evokes the spirit of the original 1807 Royal Hanneford Circus with giving it a modern, dark twist, echoes the attention to detail in the physical setting of the play itself, transforming the Barron into a circus tent through the positioning of red and yellow fabric, and even transforming its foyer through use of lights and posters, for which all credit must be given to the show’s production team.
The play first introduces Roderick, one of the protagonists, played skilfully and with great comedic timing by Stephen Quinn. His monologues broke up the story of the play, as well as providing some of the most comedic moments of the night, accentuated by Danielle Donnally’s use of lighting (such as when the lights snapped back on after what seemed to be the end of a monologue for Roderick to add, ‘Obviously I ran away!’). Roderick, strange as he was with his gift of hypnosis – brilliantly illustrated in the (slightly overlong) live hypnotism show in one of the first scenes – served as the audience’s guide through the mad world of the play, speaking in a very modern manner and creating a very personal relationship with those who watched him perform. Quinn used every comedic line to its fullest potential, but credit here must also go to directors Alexander Gillespie and Bennett Bonci, who brought Alicia’s vision of the hypnotist – and her other characters – to life.
Speaking of Egregore’s other characters – although Roderick could be seen at the heart of the show, the mysterious ring-mistress Evie (played with obvious relish by Sarah Pollock) showed Egregore’s darker, more terrifying side. Her relationship with Roderick, although rushed in its inception in the first few scenes, developed credibly – particularly when the events of the play took a darker turn and his love for her turned to fear. Evie is a terrifying character with secrets all her own; I won’t reveal them here, but it is enough to say they are deadly. With that said, one of the play’s most terrifying scenes showed Evie without control during a nightmare. Within this scene the cast really came into their own, all working together, whether stamping on the floor or laughing, to create a truly disconcerting atmosphere; it stayed in my mind long after I left the Barron.
The play’s other roles, though smaller, were no less ably performed, adding both silliness and sorrow to the proceedings. Each was introduced individually while Evie and Roderick interviewed them, and, as they are only together closer to the play’s end, the audience is able to appreciate the characters both on their individual merits and for their own stories as well as together as the group of carnies. The sad stories of Mary (Hannah Ritchie) and Erik (Scott Wilson – plaudits to Hannah Raymond-Cox for her excellent application of makeup to indicate his deformity) are contrasted with the dark humour of the stories of Anne (Phoebe Soulon) and Maxwell (Tom Williams). Each actor brought these different characters to life in such a way that at times they proved something of a distraction from the main plot of the play – especially when they were all drunk after a successful series of performances at the carnival. The whole cast enjoyed not only their roles, but also each other’s company. I wish we had seen more of the whole cast together, in fact.
The writing, direction, lighting, and staging all combined to create a believable and eerie world of mystery and illusion, made all the more frightening by the play’s unexpected and violent denouement. In his director’s note Gillespie states that the play was put on for ‘the oldest of reasons – because it’s a good story’, but I feel Egregore is more than this, exploring the showmanship and vision of theatre. Evie states that people come to the carnival because they want to see spectacle, and I would say this is true of Egregore itself, which was a spectacle both in writing and performance. If you did not ‘step right up’ to see this play, I am afraid you missed out.