Contact Theatre, Manchester
Myasthenia Gravis is one of the results of the Contact @ Home scheme, which gave funding, support and resources to three emerging talents in theatre performance. For three weeks this month, the participants in this scheme are showing the results of their work. This weekend, it is the turn of Gino Evans, a Manchester-based theatre and video artist and actor, originally from Liverpool.
Myasthenia Gravis is named after a neuromuscular disorder that causes muscular weakness, especially around the eyes, face and neck, which can cause problems with swallowing, chewing and speaking, and may cause problems with vision. The name comes from Latin and Greek, literally meaning 'grave muscle weakness'.
The way this relates to the production appears to be through the main onstage character, Wally (Peter McCarthy), who spends most of the time sat in a rubber dinghy and sometimes complains that he cannot get up or see. The audience is let into the various visions in his head through three video screens, that often interact with the live actors and each other. A second onstage character, Colin (Anthony Adesida), is able to cross between the worlds of the stage and the video screens.
The production is advertised as a work in progress, so it would not be fair to review it as a completed production. However the show as it stands at the moment is more a collection of ideas than an integrated piece of theatre. Some of these ideas are very interesting, such as the Fuzz Queen - played on film by Sarah Sayeed - created from television interference patterns, who acts as Wally's temptress, or the violent, foul-mouthed 'Scallies' (Sean Cernow, Mike Hilton and Matt Ganley) who appear to become wolf-like and terrorise Wally and Colin by chasing them across the television screens.
Some of the ideas have been done before in a more accomplished fashion. The animated child that chats with the live actors is exactly the same idea as animator Howard Read's character Little Howard, but it seems to serve little purpose in this show. The idea of a character ducking under a video screen and then appearing in the film on the screen was done brilliantly and to hilarious effect several years ago by Manchester comedy duo Lip Service in B-Road Movie, although it is quite effective here too.
The main problem with the show is a lack of any coherent narrative. There are several apparently unrelated scenes before Wally and Colin are sent on a quest across an island, pursued by the Scallies. We never find out the result of the quest as this is in part two, which the show's creators have not yet made. Each section also seems to be drawn out past the point where it is effective; this is especially obvious with the few comic moments, which are so long in the telling that they lose their impact, but it also applies to other scenes.
The show is technically ambitious, and the technical effects mostly came off with only a few problems during performance, which are to be expected for a work-in-progress of this nature. There are some nice visual effects and animation effects in the video elements (video design by Gino Evans; animation by ED Pattman), although the recorded sound is quite badly distorted on the voices a lot of the time and some of the video footage is quite dark.
The final on-screen gag was to say it was the end of part one, but as the creators have not done part two yet it is the end. However the bemused faces on the spectators as they left would indicate that part one still needs quite a bit of reworking to turn this box of tricks into a coherent piece of theatre. Evans says in the programme that he wanted "to write a piece that combined both live performance and visuals to tell the story". He has succeeded in combining these different elements, but now needs to use them more effectively to tell his story.
Reviewer: David Chadderton