In the damp bereft space of the Pit in the Vaults, we join Sophia Capasso as she anxiously jitters her leg, trembling, grinding her jaw and nervously tapping at her phone. Her face is illuminated in the blue glow which flickers across her frantic face as the bare brick wall drips behind her. The space screams for intimacy as Capasso offers us all of herself, dragging us into a dark mental trip.
VOiD begins with an opening monologue promising exploration of the interaction between social media and mental health, however the performance seems to lack continuity as the themes fail to grow distinct. The play focuses on unravelling the mystery of a crime our protagonist Ali has seemingly committed by dragging us through her disjointed memories and internalised observations. We nosedive into conflicts of mental health, knife crime and social isolation. The plot may have been more compelling with greater instances of refined ambiguity. You are forced to swim in the intoxicating narrative. The only true closure to the performance is the cyclical structure, and this mystery never seems to reach a satisfactory conclusion, to my great disappointment.
Capasso is undoubtedly the most captivating aspect of this performance. She can certainly hold a monologue. The dialogue is fragmented by Ali switching between two characters, her accent work impressive in the way of constructing differentiations between characters. These switches are jarring at times, and some of the text is perhaps cliché, however it is a testament to Capasso’s vocal abilities in the way of revealing the transformative story. The performance is consistently heightened, and stylistically speaking rather elaborate, with physicality held in long strokes which flow through each vocal crescendo. There are lovely images created with Capasso’s body; it’s difficult to imagine being captivated by the human form clad in a grey tracksuit pressed against a plastic chair.
Bruce Webb’s stylistic decision for heightened soliloquy, while impressive on the part of Capasso, means the performance doesn’t feel particularly organic, and almost too rehearsed. There are no instances of spontaneity in reaction which means much of the emotion feels forced, as if Ali is anticipating the next climax to forcibly smile at or raise her voice to. There may be scope for less constant intensity with further build and fluctuations in the way of constructing a more humanised character.
The discourse surrounding mental health care is expansive and thus I grow moderately conflicted at the presentation of Ali’s mental state throughout the performance. While Ali’s deterioration is vibrant and overtly distressing at times, there is never any clarification to her condition. Allusions to Dissociative Identity Disorder and extremities of anxiety are apparent, albeit shallow. Merely touching upon mental health conditions is arguably a deeply unsatisfactory approach to engaging with discourse surrounding mental illness in our modern day. At times it feels as if one is confronted with the words, “Mental Illness” in broad strokes. I urge for greater specify when addressing such pressing issues. Regardless, this play does highlight important issues regarding the nature of societal isolation. We recognise how quick we are to monster those who commit criminal acts, rather than reaching to understand how such circumstances occurred.
The performance lacks a sense of closure, regardless of the cyclical structure. The soliloquy ends with the same blue light from the cracked iPhone screen flashing in the whites of Ali’s eyes as the lights fade and Capasso is swallowed into blackness, leaving us with a gaping need to leave the enclosing performance space.
VOiDis playing the Pit at the Vaults until the 2 February. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.