By Jane Shepard
Director: Coral Tarran
Unchained Theatre Company
Currently on at Drayton Arms Theatre
Macabre as it might be, I think we all have moments where we wonder how we would fare with being imprisoned. What would I do if I was trapped in a cell and the threat of torture and violence constantly surround me like a shroud? What would my survival tactic be? Would I make it through? Playwright Jane Shepard must have been pondering similar questions when she wrote Nine back in 1995. In the play, we meet two unnamed, female characters locked together in a cell. We never learn why or where they are being held or by whom. The nature of imprisonment, torture and oppression are not easy subjects, though unfortunately, seemingly always timely ones.
Shepard has written fast-paced and challenging dialogue, which is handled deftly by performers Ana Luiza Ulsig and Amy Whitrod Brown. Together they build a believable codependence between two people who in their desperation to survive have built a web of different games and routines so as not to lose hope. Ulsig and Withrod Brown stay present and generous to each other throughout and find many moments of warmth and humour. If I have a complaint it is that the characters seem to be missing a physical and mental weight to them. The text implies that these women have been imprisoned and subjected to various means of torture over an extended period of time, yet there is a dexterity and lightness to the performers that feels odd given the play’s circumstances. The Drayton Arms Theatre is a small space, but here it almost felt spacious thanks to their wide range of motion. However, the overall good performances pair well together with Coral Tarrans direction. In her directorial debut, Tarran applies a less is more approach on the text and her performers, letting them be the main focus using effects such as pigment powder and the sound of jangling keys sparingly but to great effect.
Clocking in at only 40 minutes, Nine is a neat one-act that manages to touch on several different themes in its short run time. Through the interactions of our two lead characters, we are asked to consider the importance of language, humanity in the face of extreme violence and not just what is lost but also what can be found when fighting for survival. With Nine, Unchained Theatre boldly states their manifesto to produce strong and unflinching work. It is a solid debut and one that promises that there will be more and exciting work to come in the future.