Hope Theatre, London
Following a warm reception in Edinburgh, Chalk Line Theatres brings their show Testament to The Hope Theatre for a limited run, and one thing is instantly clear: this is not a company who believe in doing things by halves. Written and directed (with William Harrison) by Sam Edmunds, Testament comes at us like the head-on collision that begins the story, sweeping us up in a strobe-lit whirl of panic and confusion, punctuated by just the right amount of darkly comic relief.
At the centre of it all is Max (Nick Young), who’s just woken up in hospital after jumping off a building – a suicide attempt prompted by the recent death of his girlfriend Tess (Hannah Benson) in a car accident. There’s just one problem; Max doesn’t remember that Tess is gone, and he can’t understand why his brother Chris (William Shackleton) and his doctor (Jensen Gray) are keeping her from him. As his medical condition worsens, Max has a decision to make – with a little bit of “help” from a visiting Jesus (David Angland) and Lucifer (Daniel Leadbitter) – to accept treatment for his injuries and risk losing Tess all over again, or refuse it and keep hold of her for a little longer.
As Max struggles to choose a path, remembering funny moments with Tess one minute and wrestling with sinister masked surgeons the next, we get a glimpse of the chaos inside his traumatised mind. The pre-show warning about strobe effects is not to be taken lightly; there are several scenes in which these feature prominently and for prolonged periods, intensifying the nightmarish quality of Max’s visions. These include reliving more than once the car crash that started it all, which leads to a surprising twist revelation about what really happened that night.
Set in counterpoint to these dramatic scenes are moments of stark reality, where Chris and the doctor discuss Max’s treatment. These scenes are played convincingly by Gray and Shackleton, bringing us back to the real world and the growing urgency to take action. The obvious concern they both feel contrasts sharply with Max’s view that the medical staff are out to harm him, and once the truth about the accident is revealed, their conversations and the decision they need to make take on an interesting new direction.
Though the play deals with some difficult themes – bereavement, suicide, survivor’s guilt – there’s also plenty of humour, buckets of energy, and the faintest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, all of which keep Testament from becoming too traumatic even in its darkest moments. Nick Young leads a strong cast, skilfully juggling the pre-accident Max – exuberant, charismatic, a bit immature – with the fragile, tormented figure we find curled up in a hospital bed, discussing the meaning of life with biblical figures, each of whom has their own agenda.
If the play’s conclusion feels a little flat compared with the unstoppable energy and unsettling oddness of what’s gone before, it’s a minor complaint. The themes of Testament have been written about many times before, in many different ways, so to find an approach that still feels fresh and unique is quite an achievement. This high quality production will stress you out, make you laugh and send you home with plenty to think about. With only two dates left at The Hope, grab a ticket while you have the chance.
Testament returns to The Hope Theatre on 28th and 29th October.
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