The show is a wonderful blend of the deep and the ordinary, immersing the audience in the complex mental state of a therapist who needs some mental support herself. Like an unusual candy, it’s a bit sour in messaging, but all wrapped in almost fully accessible packaging.
The story is set in the UK, where cognitive therapy sometimes (in the case of this particular piece we only see one example) follows specific steps and seems more of a list of questions to tick off rather than a genuine conversation. Luc, who typically follows the NHS-recommended steps and points, encounters a patient who doesn’t want to play by the rules. She soon realises she has more in common with the patient, Oven, than she initially thought, as they share a personal trauma about losing someone close. Luc decides to go to great lengths to find Oven and make things right. We also get a set of impressions linking the current behaviours of both characters to their actions in the past, like Luc’s previous job where she handled medical tests conducted on mice. While the story had a good start, it somehow felt disjointed and not fully connected as a whole. It wasn’t the easiest story to follow as an audience member, and missing one sentence could disconnect you from the full impact of the show.
What impressed me most about the performance was its inclusive presentation. The performance was captioned, and the characters were introduced at the beginning in detail: including their names and outfits. Each show during this run was presented in a relaxed style: lights were dimmed, creating a more comfortable environment for audience members, and everyone was encouraged to freely move and respond to the production. This was particularly valuable for a fringe show (it’s not obvious to see such adjustment at the Vault Festival gigs), and I overheard at least three people comment on how helpful it was, including a vision-impaired audience member.
Some parts, like sudden stage movements, costume changes, new characters like a Mouse etc – were not included in the captions though, which was a surprise, because the beginning of the show introduced the characters in detail. So it seemed like the captioning wasn’t fully finished in a way, even if it started on a high note. I also noticed that despite the relaxed character of the performance, certain scenes could be a bit too loud for some audiences.
“Surfacing” as a story, presents us with multiple spaces to focus on. The first is the main stage where actors perform and interact with pieces of the stage set and props. The second is a set of 2 screens displaying the thoughts of the main character, Luc, and the captions for the dialogue. There were some technical issues during the performance I attended, which resulted in some of the captions being cut off – but the majority of the text was still easy to follow.
The two actors gave excellent performances. Rosie Gray creates a natural, raw, believable performance of a person that’s haunted by the past and overwhelmed by her thoughts. Daniel Rainford successfully creates multiple personas within this short 1-hour play – but there were certain artistic choices that I didn’t fully understand, such as the comedic high-pitched voice he used while playing Mouse. With the general feel of the performance being raw, emotional and rather harsh, certain moments like this one just felt out of place. The closing song was a pleasant surprise, showcasing the additional vocal abilities of both actors However, the ending felt a bit rushed and didn’t provide a proper conclusion to the story.
Gray and Rainford wore tech devices on their wrists and ankles throughout the show, but I wasn’t entirely sure what impact the devices had. I would prefer the introduction to the play to include an explanation of what the tech does in this show – as I’m sure it was one of the main selling points for this performance. People love details like that (myself included), so some insight into how the show works would be an advantage
Luc: ROSIE GRAY
Owen: DANIEL RAINFORD
Story & Text: TOM POWELL
Direction & Dramaturgy: STEPHEN BAILEY
Video Design & Captions: BEN GLOVER
Sound Design & Composition: DAVID DENYER
Lighting Designer – ABI TURNER
Production Designer: VICTORIA MAYTOM
Original Design Concepts: TK HAY
Mouse Costume Fabricated by: NIKITA VERBOON
Stage Manager: HARRY ADU FAULKNER
VI Consultant: SAMUEL BREWER
IAPT Consultant: JASMINE MARTINEZ
Research Consultant: DR RUTH COOPER
Publicity Design: BJÖRN BAUER
Photos in the article are credited to Alex Brenner