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Testament review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘stylised, but sensitive exploration of trauma’

Nicholas Shalebridge and the company in Testament at Hope Theatre
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Testament is a compassionate fable about coming to terms with grief, albeit one wearing the trappings of an edgy mental health drama with vague supernatural overtones.

Sam Edmunds’ heightened, often humorous script follows Max, a young man struggling to piece together his fractured memories after surviving both a suicide attempt and a traumatic car crash which claimed his girlfriend’s life. Though the tone wobbles between overwrought and overly earnest, the show’s serious themes of survivor’s guilt and self-destruction are handled with admirable sensitivity.

William Harrison, co-directing with Edmunds, gives it all a confident, highly physical staging, breaking up quiet naturalistic scenes with showy, hyperactive tableaux. A lads’ night out becomes a chaotic scramble of abstracted dance moves. A crowd of medics beat their chests to simulate a fluttering heartbeat.

Nicholas Shalebridge is a focused, jittery presence as unreliable narrator Max, snapping between unblinking, snarling intensity, and goofy, but mostly endearing, innocence. Drifting through each fragmentary sequence, Jessica Frances is comfortable and believable as fondly remembered girlfriend Tess, balancing convincing warmth with a knowing edge that hints at the untrustworthiness of Max’s recollections.

Beside them, Shireenah Ingram brings some personality to an underwritten role as a Doctor with a worrying disregard for patient confidentiality, while Daniel Leadbitter gives a memorable turn as a demonic toilet attendant.

Fierce, abrasive lighting by Alan Walden floods the space with white, examination-room fluorescence and feverish purple, helping to demarcate the frequent shifts between memory, reality, and trauma-induced imagination.

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Verdict
Stylised, but still sensitive depiction of psychosis from promising emerging company Chalk Line
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