Think of the last time you were so afraid, you didn’t even dare to move. Now imagine having this feeling whilst sitting in a dark room, clustered in with a small group of people within a tight and confined space. At times you feel so self-aware, that even your breathing could disturb the impenetrable silence that hangs in the air. This is the experience had at the production of Witness by Carmel Winters at the Project Arts Centre.
At first the atmosphere was alive and well. The audience was filled with a tight community by those who frequently attend shows at the Project Arts Centre. Old friends seemed to be reuniting, reminiscing on past events and laughing over old memories.
However, once the lights dim, this laughter rattles like a ghostly chain as sole actress Kate Stanley Brennan walks onstage, hidden in a hoodie, playing a nostalgic tune on a harmonica. She is quite vulnerable, and lonely looking, before quickly launching into action, transitioning between a young male, haunted by memories of sexual abuse, and now the suspect of a crime of his own, and his mother, who pleads with the listener about the circumstances being misconstrued.
Her talent is undeniable as she is able to convince the viewing spectator of a different body, by the ease of spinning to the far side of the stage. There isn’t a doubt in the audience about who they are watching as it is made so simple. It is undeniably an isolating position to be in, yet Brennan delivers a performance that is moving and affecting because of the force of just how human the performance really is.
The audience however feel just as susceptible, as the fourth wall becomes demolished, roping everyone into a crisis they had hoped to be pardoned from being involved in. Eye contact is used as psychological warfare, posing the question of who will dare look away first, you or her? Brennan demonstrated a rare gift by being able to go all out, whilst still conveying a humble and heartfelt performance whilst delivering the most sharp and innovative script, which manages to maintain interest from beginning to completion.
The stale smell of rolled tobacco smoke clung to the air intermingling with distant sound of police sirens, taking us far from the theatre room and into a space that was inhabited by such characters. One can sense the cold and sickening dampness of the home, by the simplistic stage set, with only a wooden ladder, a toy train, and a chair to create the world they lived in.
One is still left reeling from the final few moments of the play as it dropped one last bombshell for the audience – a revelation that was shocking, distressing, yet most of all, made sense.
The loneliness and repression the characters experience doesn’t go ignored, as the audience are reminded of the bravery humans try to convey to the world. Brennan’s eyes fight back the tears as she reminds us that only an actor will put energy into showing off that they are sad, a performer will do anything in their power to stop someone from seeing their weakness. Even if this means they need to dance around the stage and recite nursery rhymes and giggle at home videos at the playful times.
Witness is a terrifying and innovative play, capturing the minds of the viewer with witty and tentative dialogue which reflects the pulsing and heartfelt analysis on how evil and ignorance are very much different.