Stasis, White Bear Theatre - Review

In simple terms, if you strip away all its ‘bells and whistles’, science fiction portrays what life now or at some indeterminate point on the future will be like if certain technology or social factors continue unchecked. Emily Holyoake, the author of Stasis has taken the subjects of regret, loneliness, the potential evolution of artificial intelligence and interwoven them deftly with the long-term effects of space travel.

Stowed away on a spacecraft. Ren (Naomi Stafford) spends most of her days in the cargo bay. Having placed all the injured crew in stasis, she spends a lot of time sleeping, attempting yoga and all manner of physical activities to pass the time during her solitude. The questions remain as to why she’s on board the ship and how the crew came to harm in the first place...

Stasis wears its influences on its sleeve. For discerning sci-fi fans, they'll recognise variants of terminology and events used in Firefly (especially its ‘Out of Gas’ episode) while the predicament of Ren as the sole conscious ‘human’ on a spaceship with only a hologram for company does mirror Red Dwarf. However, where Holyoake takes the story from this point onwards is completely her own construction and while there are moments of mirth in Stasis, they are not at the expense of the pathos and character development during the play.

Stafford does a superb job of depicting Ren’s gradual progression from a feisty, purposeful young woman to someone years later who is travel-weary and vulnerable. Equally, Ceridwen Smith plays the Hologram’s impassive delivery to perfection. As well as speaking in the logical, measured meter of an automated entity, the Hologram adopts ‘cognitive scans’ of other crew members from time to time. In practice, this means that Smith convincingly plays a number of different characters, with different voices, speech patterns and body language/postures. Completing the cast and complementing Stafford and Smith onstage is Scarlet Sweeney as the voice of the spaceship’s Computer. While not as rigid as in her responses as the Hologram, the Computer’s calm logic is an amusing counterpoint to Ren’s sometimes agitated state.

The technical terminology that is occasionally banded around in the play, makes automatic sense. Nothing is said or introduced without it being understand or having a specific role. This has led to a taut, lean script that says much with economical length.

With all the positive things about Stasis, it would be easy to forget the contribution that the director, Liam Fleming, has made. He’s done a fine job of fleshing out the subtle facets of each character and setting the play in a believable world that's ensconced in versimilitude.

Alex Burnett provides the sound design and score (with accompaniment by Jonathan Woodhouse) for Stasis, and it is as evocative and textured as anything you will hear on the silver screen. Of the composers/projects it reminded me of, Paul Leonard-Morgan’s ‘Ma-Ma’s Requiem’ in Dredd comes to mind, as does Cliff Martinez’ ambient score for Drive and a smattering of the emotional ache of Moby's 'Love Song For My Mom'. I even bought my own copy their music on CD after the show!

Stasis works brilliantly as a piece of theatre, but by the same token it would work equally well as movie. It’s a tribute to the strength of the writing that makes the material so malleable and suitable for any media discipline... But let’s have more material like this for theatre please. The ramifications of scientific endeavour have ‘drama’ written all over them.

© Michael Davis

Stasis runs at White Bear Theatre until 25th April 2015


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