Elevator at the New Diorama Theatre

It is a horrible notion that many people hate to think about: what happens if the lift you are traveling in stops working. Do you call for help? Do you press the alarm button until it breaks? Or do you do nothing? The New Diorama Theatre are playing host to a remarkable season of Romanian work with the highlight of Elevator by Gabriel Pintilei.

Set within a small and cramped elevator of an abandoned building, this new play lures the spectator into a tiny playing space and brings about a forceful blow of scenarios, relationship strains and pushing of boundaries of the human needs. There is something about this production that takes you on a journey, skipping between emotions and tensions and emerges on the other side leaving nothing behind.

It is good to see that the New Diorama Theatre is keeping its audience guessing during their Construction Season as they settle into their new home. I wasn’t quite expecting to see such a strong and powerful performance from a theatre still carving a place for itself in its squeaky clean walls and floors. It can be said that Elevator jogged my senses and made me sit up and listen.

When a boy and girl get stuck in a lift, with no obvious way out we witness a series of fragmented moments of time as the hours turn to days and the days into weeks, and still they are trapped. Bradley Hall as the young lad is mesmerising to watch within the space of the elevator, delivering his lines with such honesty and truth that you could be mistaken for the character to be based upon himself as an actor. From throwing punches against the walls of the elevator, to a slow and distant figure at the end of the show, the transformation through the various states of minds that he goes through is superbly acted.

Amrita Acharia as the girl doesn’t hold as much conviction as X does, but her slight naive and illogical thinking works wonderfully in contrast. It is clear that what Elevator is, is a play with potential and heart to drive home an emotional and true performance from its actors. Whilst at times Pintilei’s text needs slight editing, and maybe this is more to do with Cristina Catalina’s translation, what she has created is a beautiful connection from true events to characters within a play.

The powerful moments when the characters are forced to urinate and excrete within the lift are momentarily comedic moments, but just like the play itself, a slow and dawning reality falls over the audience. This is far from funny, this is actually something truly horrific to have to endure and watch. Pintilei’s text allows for the light relief of laughter in the harrowing events, but the truth of the matter is that Elevator is a tragic piece of theatre to witness (in subject matter).

For me Elevator was so realistic, it was as if us as an audience, were within the space with them, breathing the last remaining breaths of air, and watching despairing at the decline of humans physically, emotionally and mentally and not being able to help. The studio space of the New Diorama appeared for a moment to close in on the action, and I had to tell myself that indeed, I was only watching theatre – powerful, striking and whilst at times funny, overwhelmingly a tragic true story.

Elevator does have some faults, most notably the desperate need for editing and cutting of the text. It could easily fit within an hours time frame without losing any of the action or compensating time over dramatic tension. However the sheer engagement that the piece has to offer allows for the time to at least be excused if it runs a little too long.

With a subtle yet captivating music by Joe Hastings and wonderful direction by Rachel Parish in the small space of the elevator, it is remarkable that such a powerful performance could take place within such a small stage. Will Holt’s design for the Elevator is simple, effective and perfectly suited for the action of the play.

The New Diorama is certainly a place to keep an eye on if the level of performance such as Elevator is anything to go by.

Elevator is part of The Romanian Season at the New Diorama Theatre. For more information, see their website.The show is running until 22nd May 2010.