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February 18, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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In 1971 at Stanford University, 24 college students took part in what has become one of the most infamous experiments of modern day psychology. The volunteers were divided arbitrarily into ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards’ and began what was supposed to be a two-week experiment in the effect of power upon the human psyche. It was called off after just six days. The effect of power upon the human psyche turned out to be some pretty scary stuff.

Fractur is a theatre piece based on this experiment. It explores these dark territories of the mind and, while not exactly what I would describe as scary, it is certainly fascinating as both subject matter and theatrical exploration. The premise is this: eight theatre friends, under the direction of Bosnian refugee Vanja Draganic, volunteer to take part in a long-form improvisation based on the Stanford Experiment. They are divided into prisoners and guards and agree not to leave the premises for a six-day period. Almost immediately shit gets crazy.

What we see is ‘documentary theatre’ and the play is structured around ‘flashbacks’ to the prison guard experiment, intercut with a series of monologues from the performers in which they justify their participation in the experiment and the show.

Adrian Holroid’s set of taped-out floor space and white door frames is minimal but practical—especially for a shared space in the heavily programmed BATS Fringe season—and Rebecca Rolfe’s costumes are likewise simple but effective, providing all the necessary elements and no more. I was particularly impressed by the original music, composed and performed by Adam Maha, which has the necessary tense and threatening undertones as well as being really beautiful. The programme (design uncredited) is also very cool.

The staging is dynamic, with some of the best use of split focus and group scenes that I have ever seen in BATS; a credit to the individual actors and to the ensemble as a whole. However, while Ed Shadbolt and John Bones stood out (a guard and a prisoner respectively) the rest of the performances I found to be distractingly artificial. For a show that relies on realism to make its point the delivery from most of the cast feels markedly stagey.

That aside, I think this piece definitely has something. It is gutsy, intelligent and intriguing. I would be interested to see this reworked, and props to the Fringe and Urban Vineyard for bringing this ambitious and inventive piece of theatre.

Devised and directed by Vanja Draganic
Presented by Urban Vineyard and YHA
at BATS, Wellington.

Until 16 Feb 2010

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