Thursday 21st June 2018 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).
Forget about the Dog Theatre bring a bold and inventive show to the stage with 100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace. Kat has been in an accident and has suffered brain injuries which are affecting her memory and her access to language. She’s on the road to recovery, but without warning, she’ll realise something she’s done for years is now alien to her; things like tying shoelaces. In a surreal take on what must be a supremely surreal and bizarre experience, the company take us inside the mind of Kat as she haggles with, reprimands and tolerates the bumbling fools operating her foggy mind – or is sporadically taken hostage by various figments of her misfiring imagination.The advertising pitch for this show quickly shirks the concept of a brain injury patient lying in bed, slowly getting through each day between therapy sessions and intensely emotional family visits. But it doesn’t quite capture or prepare you for the unique energy and approach of this company. A cast of five manage to take us on a journey through the muddied waters of Kat’s tumbled thoughts. With just a few simple props they conjure rivers and cliff tops, war zones and hospital rooms. With just a small cast they master both hilarity and poignancy through an exciting and energised use of physical theatre.It’s an impressive team which crafts a show so well equipped to tackle this kind of subject with such creativity and wit while never sacrificing the impact of the more dramatic, sobering moments where we witness Kat’s continuing battle to regain control of her wayward mind. The balance between brilliantly written comedy with meaningful drama is perfect. We’ll be watching Kat attempt to re-connect with the basics of daily life only to be flung into a musical number triggered by a single word uttered, or we’ll see a bewildered Kat launched into unlikely situations which demonstrate the odd ways the human brain can behave when dealing with trauma – each and every snippet landing somewhere on the scale between amusing and hilarious, made all the more so by Stenson’s eye-darting, bemused performance.
Most impressive of all though is the fact that despite the strength and prominence of the comedy, the writing (a joint effort of the company) never lapses into unfeeling or belittling of the genuine experience of real patients – that danger is swiftly side-stepped by the quiet moments of reflection we witness from Kat.
Leanne Stenson gives a knockout performance as Kat and I hope to see a lot more of her in the future. Too comically blunt to ever be a victim and too likeable to lose our interest when she snaps and bickers with her caring and struggling sister. Stenson’s performance skilfully weaves between comedy and sympathy, and her portrayal of the impact of a brain injury on a robust individual spans emotional, mental and physical manifestations, with her depiction of the way words and meanings stall or fail mid-sentence taking shape as both alarming and moving.As the embodiment of Kat’s brain, Jordan Larkin is sardonic and removed while also very much intrusive – he’s a veritable fountain of monotone one liners and every one is a hit. Much in the same vein, Joshua Ling and Robin Leitch’s performances as nurses and various ensemble roles are hilarious and hugely entertaining. Larkin, Ling and Leitch should branch out as a comic trio – their scenes as the gaggle of RP sporting soldiers and their omni-shambolic attempts to help Kat are highlights which leave a smile on the face even after the scene has moved on. India Thompson enables some of the best dramatic moments to take shape as the well-meaning but flailing younger sister Grace; calm and confident, but crumbling beneath. Stenson and Thompson show both the frictions and the deep bond of the pair, offering an insight into the impact on those around the patient as well as the patient themselves.
I can’t fault this show. It’s a brilliantly crafted piece which gets all the important parts right and then some – there’s meaning and importance to the story and there’s a pleasing amount of finely tuned comedy too – there is quite literally never a dull moment, and that’s really quite rare.
100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace is produced by Natalie Rawel and plays at Harrogate Theatre until Saturday, June 23rd 2018. You should, and can, find tickets here.