The Seagull Effect by Idle Motion, a physical theatre company of six young actors, asks the audience to reflect on the ways in which the smallest changes can have the biggest effects. The setting is the south east of England, the year 1987 and the date October 15th, the day Britain was struck by a hurricane. The play follows the stories of ordinary people whose lives were (literally) blown off course by the devastation and disruption that the storm caused.
The play came about through Paul Slater, the company’s Artistic Producer, recalling childhood memories of the hurrican, and sharing them with the actors. The pre–show immediately draws the audience’s attention as pre-recorded interviews with men and women who were affected by the storm are played. This had the effect of reminding the audience that what they were watching was a piece of documentary drama not just a work of fiction.
The actors, lead by Grace Chapman as the narrator, worked with great synchronisation and unity. Comic moments were created such as the presentation of Michael Fish’s infamous weather report line, “Earlier on today, apparently a woman phoned the BBC and said there was a hurricane on the way — well, if you’re watching, there isn’t . . .” Times of emotional intensity such as the rekindling and destruction of the relationship between Man (Joel Gatehouse) and Woman (Kate Stanley) drew the audience in and re-affirmed the underlying message that without the small changes the greater things may never happen. Even the transitions between scenes were intriguing, with pieces of dance choreographed around the moving of chairs and umbrellas. These helped to keep the play moving forwards with pace and energy, and highlighted the company’s attention to detail.
Multi-media was put to fine use with images of moving clouds, heavy rain and falling trees. These were projected onto a variety of backgrounds including umbrellas, white plastic sheeting, paper and the actors’ faces. A car was created with lighting effects and a piece of plastic for a windscreen, butterflies appeared from inside a bed, and a wind machine blew leaves across the stage and into the audience. These visual surprises made the play exciting and unpredictable to watch, and made you feel as if you were part of the storm and not just a spectator.
Sound, by Adam Washington complemented the visual effects to create a well-rounded production. Wind whistling and increasing in pitch and volume, rain pattering and the cracking of trees immersed the audience in the play and completed the presentation of a storm. The play concluded with this quote from Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher: “A storm is blowing in from Paradise. This storm is what we call progress.” This encapsulated the message of the play, that testing events may have small beginnings, and that these can escalate into something much greater and can affect us all in ways that we do not expect.
The Seagull Effect is at the New Diorama Theatre.