Lucy Painter enjoys an evening immersing herself in Watch This Society’s latest piece of original student theatre

Written by Lucy Painter
English and Modern Languages student at the University of Birmingham. Arts and cultures advocate. All views presented are my own.
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Images by Watch This Society

The Künstlerroman of Amadeus Bedlam, Artist is intriguing both in name and nature. The latest offering from original theatre society Watch This, Bedlam charts the decline of obsessive artist Amadeus Bedlam. A collision of the artistic and real worlds, the play debates the relationship between the arts, science and religion in society, with shocking consequences.

Written and directed by Luke Young, the script is full of references to world philosophy, literature and theatre. For the best part, the allusions to other works were well-received by the audience. I fear, however, that some of the more niche references may have been lost by audience members who do not have knowledge of some texts. With such a self-aware piece, preoccupied with artistic creation, one focus is the distance between the audience and the action. At multiple points, the characters become aware of the audience, questioning “why are they looking at us?” and attempting to stab the front row with swords. In another scene, two characters speak in French (with the help of a translator for the audience), to try and deliberately distance the audience. I find this manipulation of the audience an interesting technique to pursue, yet I can also appreciate how this may have been lost on other audience members.

The entire cast handled a complex script well, with strong group dynamics in larger scenes

In the first half, the stage space was littered with various classic texts and scraps of paper, forming the study of Amadeus Bedlam. The audience were encouraged to leave for the interval so that the stage could be set for the second half, which was much simpler in design. Any scene changes required during blackouts were slick and successful, with the space being used and adapted effectively. The lighting throughout worked especially well, shifting between a lurid pink and blue, and a sterile white. This punctuated moments where Amadeus is attempting to escape the real world, before being confronted by it.

The entire cast handled a complex script well, with strong group dynamics in larger scenes. Smaller roles were given great attention, however, the characters of The Barmaid (Belle Daniels) and The Translator (Katie Payne) could have been given more time on-stage and elaborated upon. The Thugs/Decadents (Laura Hickie and Kalifa Taylor) had perfect comic timing in the bar scene, improvising effortlessly when the drinks spilled over and drawing the audience’s attention away from the main focus of the scene. Pippa Chilvers had some hilarious one-liners as the alcoholic Father Merton, completely changing her physicality and voice for the Fool in the second half. Her comic presence contrasting with the creep Edmund Bedlam, played by Oliver Sapier. As the underhand brother of Amadeus, Sapier commanded the stage whenever he entered, the tone becoming distinctly more chilling.

A highly detailed and carefully constructed script, at times it did not feel like a student play

To be on-stage for over two hours is no easy feat, yet Sophie MacDonald displayed incredible stamina to portray Amadeus Bedlam. Sustaining a frantic energy throughout, MacDonald was captivating as she moved around the stage space. It felt as though Amadeus was constantly thinking and the audience could see the inspiration and thoughts clearly through MacDonald’s performance. Additionally, she handled some very complex lines and monologues with ease, delivering them with a crafted clarity and precision. The scene in French, between Chilvers and MacDonald, had a similar simplicity and speed, which was impressive and commendable.

Bedlam is a play which is aware of its own creation and artistic creation in general. A highly detailed and carefully constructed script, at times it did not feel like a student play. The self-aware nature of the play and considerable number of references could have been potentially stifling for some audience members, yet the script was conveyed with clarity by the whole cast. Both the production and performances were successful, and I admire all involved for creating and delivering such a thought-provoking piece.