Chalk Line Theatre
Blurring the boundaries between life and death, reality and fantasy, Testament is a brave and playful attempt to take on the big questions of what happens after we die and what makes life meaningful.
Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, a young, energetic cast bring to life Sam Edmunds’s award-winning, darkly comic script in a fast-paced one-hour performance.
Opening in media res, Max is in recovery in hospital after the death of his girlfriend, Tess, in a car accident leads him to a failed suicide attempt. Max’s trauma is as psychological as it is physical; as his doctor and brother grapple to treat his brain injury in the present, he inhabits a parallel realm of dreams and memories in which Tess is still alive.
Drawing on familiar biblical metaphors which echo Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Max’s fight for survival soon becomes a choice between succumbing to grief or letting go in favour of life. Naturalistic dialogue is woven together with tongue-in-cheek monologues which paint an honest picture of the pressures facing young men and the difficulty of facing up to the subject of mental health.
Edmunds’s simple staging is used to good effect to create the juxtaposition of the present reality and Max’s psyche. The hospital bed doubles as Max’s beloved car, while the makeshift car headlights become surgical spotlights on the operating table in a nightmarish sequence which recalls the scene of the car crash. The intimacy of the space draws the audience into the action, becoming Max’s silent confidants during his candid monologues and faces in the crowd in the nightclub scene. Creative use of strobe lighting and physical theatre all help to drive the play forward to a dramatic climax where the two worlds of the real and the imagined finally meet.
At times, the script feels over-laboured and moments of overacting take away from the surrealist illusion Edmunds is trying to create. However, what the performance lacks in polish is made for by high energy throughout.
Nick Young carries off the complexity of Max’s psychological state, whilst his comic lines are delivered with charm. William Shackleton is less convincing in his role as the guilt-ridden brother, but there are some entertaining and touching moments between him and Max. David Angland and Daniel Leadbetter are well-matched as larger than life modern-day Jesus and Lucifer, balancing witty repartee against more weighty speeches.
There are strong supporting performances from Hannah Benson as headstrong Tess, and Jensen Gray, as Max’s sensitive and well-informed doctor.
Testament is an ambitious production, tackling challenging topics with creativity and humour. Both the writing and performances could be sharpened up, but there’s authenticity to play’s weaknesses, which seem appropriate to the central theme of human fragility.
Reviewer: Hollie Goodall