There’s something strange about watching a production in which there are no fictional characters. Shows after which a quick Google search or snoop on social media could reveal more about the real people represented on stage makes for sightly disturbing viewing. The difference is poignant and often makes you sit up and take note about the events in a way that fiction is easier to dismiss.
Snippet Theatre’s courageous verbatim piece recounts the time a small town in Wales was rocked by the murder of a young woman. Most verbatim works fall into one of two categories: either they make clear, unapologetic reference to a specific, often well-known, subject, or their interviewees are generalised and unplaceable with minimal risk of their identities being uncovered.
In Known, something different is happening: the town and people are real, but they’re not famous, they aren’t household names or important political figures, yet matching the personalities on stage to the people is a very real possibility. As the piece is centered on an uncomfortable and violent murder, it racks up the tension from the get go. The sense of peeking into the lives of a real community at a tragic and shocking time, of having their fears, anxieties and judgements on others revealed in such a public way makes this piece all the more affecting.
What this production does exquisitely is to convey the sense of horror, fear and mistrust that has pervaded this small, close-knit community. The deep-rooted connections and friendliness that are rife in small seaside towns come through with force, hitting home this tragedy even harder.
Emulating a wide range of members in this society, the company quickly builds a strong sense of what this community is like and how the people within it rely on and support each other. It’s evident both explicitly and implicitly in the staging of their work and their careful choice of interviews. Mundane discussions of routine activities are made comic by carefully timed, succinct scenes. Both performers and characters are at ease with one another, relaxing into their roles, as if their relationships go back for generations.
The cast move smoothly through a range of ages and characters, picking up jackets and hoodies off of racks and assuming various roles with ease. Garments are strewn across the floor as they drop accents and physicality, discarded until the characters are awoken again. It further evokes a sense of a community; a never ending presence of families and friends who are always in and out of each other’s pockets.
A particularly unpleasant moment depicting the murder itself is bravely drawn out, raising the tension and trapping the audience in its vulgarity; this company wants you to feel at least a fraction of the horror that this community felt, and they do a good job of not letting you escape that.
Performing with huge sensitivity for such a young company, Snippet Theatre’s bold and exciting verbatim work is worth watching out for.
Known played at the Pleasance Theatre. For more information, see the Pleasance Theatre website.