I went to see On Ego with great anticipation, it was clear that there was a great intrigue surrounding this play and I for one couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. The posters looked fantastic: Alberto Seveso’s coloured dyes swirling and warping on billboards around campus were sure to catch anyone’s eye. Testament to the uniqueness of On Ego, the first night featured a Q&A session before the performance. Neuro-scientist, Tom Hartley debated with Andrew Ward, Philosophy lecturer and together they discussed the endless questions raised by the play. The talk focussed especially on how the brain creates the self and concluded with the complex moral dilemma of teleportation. In effect, the concepts of the play were in motion before anyone had set foot on the stage. This heightened my desire to experience this play, immersed in the language of neurology and the hard problem of consciousness. I was eager to find out more.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Mick Gordon’s intriguing work centres around a married couple (Alice and Alex) and to a lesser extent Alice’s father Derek – a touchy subject (Derek is a professor and Alex’s senior). We hear Alex’s smooth and assured lecture at the beginning of the play but it’s only later, when events unfold, that Alex fully experiences his theories for himself, with tragic consequences.
Oliver Henn’s performance was impeccable, a seamless portrayal of Alex with all his quirks and exuberance, no doubt working closely with movement director Amy Warren. The opening lecture scene had the potential to be confusing (wrestling with huge concepts such as bundle and ego theory) but the way in which Henn coolly explained it, with a sharp energy and perfectly timed dialogue, drew in the audience and didn’t let them go. Henn perfectly encapsulated the arrogant yet likable protagonist.
Yoshika Colwell’s performance despite some evidence of opening night nerves, was captivating. Her character Alice was engaging, amiable and at key moments, heart breaking. For me the highlight of the show was these two actors relationship and their synergetic physicality throughout. Although I must admit some of the dance sequences were a little awkward.
Perfect in a role which seemed more of a side-line to the central couple was Harry Whittaker as Derek. Whittaker moulded himself into the part of a stubborn father and aged scientist, still wanting to seek control of the characters. As the play unfolds Derek’s character endures a change from humorous to cathartic and Whittaker expertly undergoes this transition as we see him crack under pressure. Brilliantly believable and flawlessly executed.
Scott Hurley composed the original score of On Ego – no doubt working closely with Tom Leatherbarrow the audio visual coordinator. At first, actors talking to the projected recording seemed a little clumsy and disjointed however once the play reached its dramatic climax the audiovisual effects were crucial in heightening the emotive scenes, pre-recordings of the cast were superimposed cut with dialogue. This effect was mesmerising and executed with aplomb. It lit up and filled the minimal set and one or two shivers were felt in the audience.
The play ends soon after this climactic scene with an obscure anecdote form Whittaker to keep you thinking. You are left with a slight confusion and some loose ties. However, what will remain clear at the end of the play (and long after) is the big questions of the characters’ microcosm. Do we have a self? How does the brain create this? Is there really no soul-pilot?
The highly anticipated On Ego by Mick Gordon, inspired by the book Into the Silent Land by Paul Brooks is playing at the Black Box theatre in TFTV until Saturday 8th February. This play is a must- see for anyone wishing to grapple with the perception we have of ourselves and our own enduring sense of identity. Whilst watching I was especially drawn in but the exceptional cast who embodied their characters with a great exuberance. Jason Ryall (co-director) had his analysis on point when he remarked that On Ego doesn’t necessarily give any answers, but pokes and ponders many questions. Indeed this peculiar play pokes and prods at the brain throughout and is sure to be a stimulating watch, something which will stick in the mind days after encountering it. Go and see it.