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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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Bedlam, which is more a play with music than a musical per say, traces the professional career of Dr. Thomas Baxter (Guy Langford), a talented and well-meaning physician, recently taken on as the assistant to Dr. Gordon Battie (Kate McGill) at the infamous “Bethlehem Royal Hospital”. Under the leadership of Dr. Johnathan Savage (Veronica Brady), and through the cruelty and ineptitude of Mr. Cornelius Crooke (Emmett Skilton) the surgeon, and his assistant Dr. Harlin Graves (Tim Carlsen), the hospital is—as you would expect from “the place that begat the word”—in a state of bedlam. Baxter sets out to help his superior remove “that bee-sting of a man” Savage, but becomes a little too emotionally attached to one of the patients, Luna (Romy Hooper), along the way. The story that ensues is effective and affecting, if not a little predictable, and depicts the way in which humans often bend to the chaos that surrounds us.

Bedlam is an ensemble piece, and its success owes much to the commitment and plasticity of its cast. As the twin gargoyle brothers who usher us into the asylum and guide us through the story, Milo Haigh and Jean Sergent, whose costume and makeup were a symphony in pigeon shit, made for a dynamic duo that were particularly delightful to watch when working in close contact. The very talented composer musicians (Erika Grant, Isaac Smith and Amanda Maclean) were equally instrumental (ha!) to the success of the production, with their musical menagerie providing everything from atmosphere to sound effects, to accompaniment and full-blown soundtrack. My only real quibble with any of the performances was that, particularly during the songs, a lot of words got lost in the battle between the actor’s voices, the musicians, and the unforgiving acoustics of the theatre itself.

The set design, by Liz Carpenter, appeared deceptively simple, but rested solidly on a dynamic audience arrangement, and clever use of the existing Basement Theatre architecture. The lighting design, by Rachel Baker, was rife with sharp angles and bold silhouettes. As my friend said to me upon leaving the theatre: “I feel like I need a shower now, it was like we were in that place”. The sparse and well-chosen moveable and malleable set pieces and creepy props—with the curative goat as a clear audience favorite—contributed well to the sense of the world, as did the equally multi-functional costumes.

Eli Kent is undoubtedly worth his salt as a writer, and Kerr’s direction was exciting and inventive, and only very rarely did I feel that he had allowed his bag of tricks get in the way of the story. The PlayGround Collective ought to be damn proud of what producer Eleanor Bishop describes as their first long-term project to come to maturation.

Written by Eli Kent
Directed by Robin Kerr
With Jean Sergent, Milo Haigh, Guy Langford, Tim Carlsen,
Kate McGill, Romy Hooper, Veronica Brady, Emmett Skilton, Erika Grant, Isaac Smith and Amanda Maclean
In the Basement theatre at Toi Whakaari
7pm, 1–5 September

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