The menacing realities of the UK’s prison-industrial complex is hard to comprehend without having direct relation to it. Woodhill aims to break the barrier and confront Fringe audiences with the starkly irredeemable atrocities that unfold in a world within our world. This verbatim, physical theatre piece follows the three real stories of those who have lost their loved ones to the black hole of injustice at the titular prison.
Three characters are already in action on stage as you enter the theatre. Snaking through industrial shelves stacked with labelled moving boxes. The sparse lighting initiates the show’s beginning and submerges the atmosphere into a tonal darkness. The patterns of physicality begin to appear as the show’s stylistic DNA solidifies. The three actors adopt a cross between a contemporary dance and whole-body sign language to accompany pre-recorded words. They consistently resume the jerky muscle twitch movements to sustain the show’s tension and tone of torture.
The physicality was executed with trained skill and an obvious commitment to the message. However, reaching nearly an hour and a half, the show is unrelenting in its intense portrayal of pain. While it is infinitely important to do so, the risk is running the audience into an emotional fatigue.
The show need not be colourful as that is not the intention, but it would be advantageous to integrate perhaps different hues of the same colour. The show is broken up into multiple sections, introducing new, visually striking choreo. However, it does feel homogenous in its overall presentation, especially with the ongoing lack of variation in the show’s audio.
The fourth performer is dressed as an in-mate. His addition seems to be an after-thought. While probably intentionally distinct, the character assumes multiple roles that at times construe the show’s emotional signals. Most notably, the villainous facial expression on the character that represented the very prisoners we were supposed to empathise with. Though it may have been a reasoned stylistic choice, a re-examination of this character could provide much needed clarity, along with the highly stylised audio track relaying the story that is at times too corrupted to follow.
Physical theatre is one of the most challenging forms of art to construct. To deliver and do justice to the verbatim stories of real heartbreak adds even more insurmountable pressure. Woodhill is a show full of heart and care, but it struggled to master the balance between commitment to tone and audience engagement. Nonetheless, it’s a visually striking display of a message that cannot be ignored. It’s a show that is most definitely worth ample eyes and ears.
20:55 @ Summerhall – Main Hall
Aug 15-20, 22-27