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The excitement in the air is palpable. I am waiting in a (socially distanced) queue, and the hum of other voices surround me. Up some stairs I go and head into a theatre for the first time in a long time. Proforça Theatre Company’s AAAAA (FiveA) urges on and nurtures this electric atmosphere; everything about the production except for its location at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre is kept a strict secret to recreate the surprise of the “return of genuine ‘live’ fringe theatre.” As I sit down I am hyper-aware of the fact that anything can and will happen.
Without giving too much away, something that strikes me about the set of AAAAA is how clearly the audience are sat down inside the protagonists’ mind (played by Daniel Rainford). We hear what he hears, and it is almost as though his brain has exploded onto the walls. Further enhancing this, the audio-visual effects are stunning. Lights above Rainford shift softly throughout the play, causing shadows to play across his face and illuminate every corner from different angles; they change colour, helping us to imagine ourselves in different spaces both outdoor and indoor; and at times, they go out completely, leaving us in the pitch black. In the background, gentle (though sometimes alarmingly loud) ambient noises play out; the crackling of leaves in a forest, chatter in a classroom, and the sound of waves hitting the shore.
Rounding out these excellent features, Rainford fills the stage capturing the essence of someone irretrievably lost and tormented, switching rapidly between humour, barely-concealed rage, terror, and profound grief. He uses every inch of the stage, exploring it in earnest, ensuring that the audience remains engaged throughout. Initially, I think that Rainford’s portrayal could have had a little added depth to it, but I am won over by a seaside memory that elucidates the softer (and more relatable) side to his character.
Something that feels a little incongruous to me is the air of mystery upheld by the play alongside its rather predictable script. I find myself accurately predicting aspects of the protagonists’ situation, and there are no twists or shocks present within the storyline that I perhaps expect from a show whose premise hinges upon the unknown. At times, watching Rainford’s character slowly piece things together is slightly agonising, and I find that the pace of the play walks a fine line between this and a realistic, unfurling realisation. However, Rainford’s acting is so exciting and primal in its rawness that I do not find the script’s limitations to be a major setback. I remain engrossed until the end.
My own return to ‘in-person’ theatre cannot have begun in a more thrilling way than experiencing AAAAA. Proforça Theatre Company captures the thrill of seeing a live show and run with it, and with a beautifully realised stage alongside such powerful acting, it restores and revitalises my love for theatre.
AAAAA is playing the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 29 May 2021. For more information and tickets, see Lion & Unicorn Theatre online.