Claustrophobia, Hope Theatre - Review

With overtures to Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit and the canon of Samuel Beckett, Claustrophobia's straightforward premise – two people waiting in a confined space with no escape from each other – lends itself to innumerable possibilities. Directed by Sharon Burrell and written by novelist Jason Hewitt, Claustrophobia strips stagecraft to its bare essentials.

Trapped in a lift that's broken down, Rachel (Natasha Pring) and Aidan (Michael Cusick) react very differently to their circumstances. Rachel is particularly agitated by the lack of response from the outside world to their situation. Shouting for help and pressing the lift's 'help' button multiple times, Rachel is at first more irritated by the fact that Aidan is reticent to do anything. However, when questioned, he explains the illusion of control that pressing buttons on lifts gives and that his training in the army has helped him to master his emotions. In any case, to help Rachel feel like she has a modicum of control, Aidan shouts for help with her occasionally. Over time Aidan's calming presence wins Rachel over and to keep her distracted from their situation, answers her questions about his background. The more relaxed Rachel becomes, the more she has an uneasy feeling that she and Aidan have a shared history and that their confinement is more than meets the eye...

The attention to detail in the first half of the evening is meticulous, never setting a foot wrong. The awkward silences and outbursts of exasperation ring true, as does the preoccupation with time when the batteries of phones have died. Despite Rachel being initially anxious, Pring endows Rachel with a talkative, humorous personality that keeps the audience laughing and interested throughout, while Cusick anchors Rachel and the play with restraint, in control of feelings if not the external circumstances...

If Claustrophobia continued in the same vein throughout, it would have been a rather different play. However, Rachel's presence beyond the confines of the lift, along with the projections and allusions to memories suggests their incarceration isn't necessarily of a physical nature.

While Rachel and Aidan are essentially 'waiting',  their situation is never tiresome to watch, nor is it bogged down with probing questions beyond their immediate circumstances. However, in the latter half of the play, the emotional legacy of earlier events touches on the present, if the truth can be faced.

Claustrophobia is proof that you don't need elaborate sets or convoluted plots to make compelling theatre. Just talented actors, direction and a small square stage.

© Michael Davis 2015

Claustrophobia runs at Hope Theatre until 5th December 2015.


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