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Kaspar

Benedict Sandiford
Benedict Sandiford and Cassie Friend
South Street Arts Centre

Kaspar

Kaspar is a brand new theatre piece, devised for South Street Arts Centre’s festival of storytelling. It is a story of love and betrayal, an elaborate and epic narrative, written and devised by its performer, Benedict Sandiford and the director Cassie Friend.

This story is told to the audience in a yurt, whose entrance is through a corridor of hessian sacks. It never fails to add excitement to transform a space in that way, and it provides an extra layer to the performance. The experience is one of being surrounded, just as the character himself is surrounded.

We are also surrounded by light and sound, from outside the yurt. The first things we hear are the sounds of the fairground: not the laughter of children, the sunny daytime enjoyments, but the background sounds, the performers, the workers, behind the scenes. Sound and light are carefully placed in the show, and atmospheric sound effects elevate the complex narrative.

Our main voice is that of Kaspar himself, a magician by day, and a master of darker magicks by night. He is a fugitive, and he has an urgent story to tell with not much time left to tell it.

Kaspar is played by Sandiford with poise and great sincerity. It is a serious story and he is a serious character, engrossed in his world, and lost to the drama of his own life. Benedict’s delivery is very focussed, economical and compelling as he shifts from character to character, and from one storytelling technique to another.

There are some moments of real atmosphere, in particular a scene in which he physicalises the hauling up of a huge big top circus tent, in a pouring rain storm. Again, strong sound effects and lighting, from outside the yurt, (provided by Adrian Croton) create a bigger world than the small dark one we are seated within.

A dark spell that the character casts is represented by swirling light across the surface of a dented, black suitcase, the suitcase that embodies both prop and character throughout the piece. It is a dramatic scene, lit beautifully and performed with a foreboding menace.

We also meet Kaspar’s wife, played by Poppy Price, a young local performer, who flits, ghost-like, in and out of Kaspar’s story, and in and out of the yurt at key moments in the narrative. Her character is almost an image of his conscience, as he resigns himself to his inevitable fate and she leads him away.

It is this final change of heart, his surrender, that demonstrates one of the difficulties with telling a story this complex. We never really get to know, in depth, any of the characters. The plot drives on, detailed and beautifully, lyrically written, but at times it leaves the characters themselves behind. We don’t see or feel Kaspar’s emotional journey clearly, and therefore, some empathy is lost.

This is not a criticism of the performance, which is thick with passion and emotion, but more of a heavily narrative-driven piece that leaves little room for the characters to breathe or to simply inhabit the moment.

It is always uplifting to see theatre created from a moment of inspiration, and this story has been crafted by its teller in just this way. His investment in it and his integrity is hugely apparent. It is this that enables it to be dramatic and atmospheric, and demand that you follow the narrator through the tent and out into another world.

Reviewer: Liz Allum