Review: How To Be Immortal

How to be Immortal? – that is the question…

…become a blogger for Live Theatre and you’ll live in the wonderful world of the internet forever.

Or, see How To Be Immortal by Penny Dreadful Productions.

In order to fully answer the question of immortality I’ll provide a little bit of context by going back to when I first introduced myself as a Live Theatre blogger (at the beginning of February). It has been a fantastic experience being part of Live Theatre’s blogging team, having the opportunity to see some world class theatre and entertainment right on my doorstep. Each with their own message, objectives and distinctive style. They have all asked questions of society, shared a passion, made me laugh and left me questioning. Reiterating the value of theatre for me.

How To Be Immortal was another prime example of the capacity of theatre, to challenge, question, ignite and spark your creative appetite. The show, produced by Penny Dreadful, addresses the complex issue of immortality. During the post show discussion, Director Kirsty Housley, as well as the rest of the panel including experts in genetics and ethics, stressed the sensitivity and social issues that surround how we address our bodies after death.

Listen to the Post Show discussion…

In order to do so, Housley and the Penny Dreadful team approached the topic with a story that was both sad and important. The story of Henriette Lacks. Have you heard of her? Neither had I before I seen this show.

The approach was full of detail, using many theatrical techniques to transform the story on stage through movable sets and imaginative technical creativity that made the story burst into life visually. All of these devises were cleverly intertwined with a well structured story written by Mira Dovreni, .

In her script, Mira cleverly interweaves three storylines, showing how different lives are affected by cancer, or, Henrietta Lacks’ link to the cancer in particular. There was a lot of meaty chunks of information to digest, which cleverly intertwined with the fictional lives of a modern day couple and the depiction of historical events. With particular creative fun in George Gey’s ‘Science Lessons’. The variety of different ways that each storyline was told, was a useful way of conveying a lot of information, by breaking it up into various relatable situations.

Housley used a variety of theatrical techniques to keep the information vibrant throughout. Using imaginative tableaus and sketches, all interweaving to bring out the historical events behind the stories (including eccentric doctors and imaginative musical projections).

The human element of the piece was a particular highlight. I particularly enjoyed the the fictional story of the couple, Rosa and Mick, who suffered from cancer in a devastating way (much like Henrietta Lacks). Through their storyline the audience was asked to think about what it feels like to loose a loved one through the objects and memories that they leave behind. This storyline helped it all make sense, to experience the ‘idea’ of immortality, and how it can affect all of us. It was an effective way of showing the audience how these issues can affect us personally, through the loss of a partner, and showing how we still live on in the memories and things we leave behind. Most notably the music they loved, a touching way to show how it relates to us. Culminating in Rosa’s creation of a new piece of music written through the DNA of her lost partner.

The use of projection, direct address, set movement and sketches helped keep up the pace, and tell the heavier parts of scientific information through entertaining and imaginative portrayals and re-tellings of the facts behind the story. The science was a key element that was focused on throughout the piece, and did provide a lot of context to the drama on stage.

Overall I felt it was a jam packed performance and another fine example of the different ways of approaching and making theatre. All these elements made for an interesting exploration of science through theatre.

Penny Dreadful brought a very interesting subject to life. Leaving a very memorable (if not immortal) impression on me. I would love to see some of the information honed, in order to focus more on the dramatic action on stage. However, all in all it was a thoroughly interesting and thought provoking night, which was a joy to experience.

Thanks for reading!

Steven Blackshaw
Live Theatre’s Guest Blogger for February


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