Review: Obsidian

After a string of successful performances in Manchester and York, the Datura Collective come to Orillo Studios to perform their highly original play, Obsidian. 

Having already performed twice at the Fleeting Arms, the Datura Collective brought Obsidian back to York on the 28th of October, this time at Orillo Studios. The play is about the experiments of two young witches, who try to summon a spirit with the help of the “Obsidian stone”. Constance, played by Kate Burke, is strong willed and dominating almost menacing, whilst Bird, played by Nicola Stringfellow, is innocent and naïve. They have both been friends for a long time and are the only two sisters of their coven. One night, they succeed in summoning Embers, played by Sean Richards, but do not realise what they have truly succeeded in doing.

This is a production that examines life, attraction; primal instincts; relationships; power struggles, and the power of words. It has an out-of-time and earthy feel to it, drawing on imagery such as the elements, animals, and blood. The atmosphere is beautifully reflected in the set: Datura really made the room unique, combining smells, music, lights, leaves, and even the seating to envelop you the moment you walk in.

It is completely removed from day to day life or reality and yet passionately explores the fundamental questions of humanity, not just intellectually, but emotionally as well.

The staging itself has a rather rough feeling, though it combines many strong theatrical techniques in a way that flows well. The direction, by Tom Leatherbarrow and Sean Richards – and consequently the acting – felt unfinished, but nevertheless full of talent and potential throughout. Yet this is ironically perhaps what gave the piece its enormous charm. Here or there the blocking was a little wobbly, or the actors didn’t quite reach the emotion they were going for, but there was dedication and pride running through the play which nevertheless gripped the audience.

Obsidian is the kind of play one sees where a few days later you start to wonder whether that evening was quite real. It is completely removed from day to day life or reality and yet passionately explores the fundamental questions of humanity, not just intellectually, but emotionally as well. You are beset with charming scenes, direct questions, long poetic monologues, so that if you don’t quite follow the meaning of everything, you will still have a gut response that opens personal questions within you. Obsidian begins to achieve what few plays do: creating meaning and emotion through more than dialogue.

Obsidian carries the audience through the piece, and leaves one feeling welcomed and curious.

The script was newly written by Kate Burke, who also acts in the play, which is an unusual decision within contemporary trends. From my experience, the themes of fantasy or witchcraft today are often either approached in a completely cynical or derogatory way, or entirely separated from reality. It’s very exciting to see a play such as Obsidian use fantasy in a wholly sincere way.

There was a palpable sense of belief in the story, instead of the self-derision one might expect from the genre today. Yet the play was not lacking in humour either, which was one of the most successful aspects of the play. Drawing from conventions of dark comedy, the subtle yet striking changes in tone provided a nice relief, and drew one even more into the story. The balance felt just right, and never felt forced, or ever fell flat. Obsidian carries the audience through the piece, and leaves one feeling welcomed and curious.

All of this piece is carried through by an incredible cast of young actors. The first moments are particularly striking: a few minutes is enough to define the characters, which are then beautifully maintained. The characters conveyed the intensity of the story and coordinated well with the physicality of the stage-design elements.

My only criticism (which is perhaps linked to the fact that the play has been touring many different venues since it started, and not specialising in one place) is that I personally didn’t quite feel that the cast was connecting with their particular audience. Perhaps the intent was to create the feeling of a world bigger than the room that it was set in, or to convey a haughty disdain for surroundings which evoke the feel of secret rituals in the woods, but I felt the choice was not clear enough. I would have liked to have felt a bigger awareness from the cast towards the audience present in the room in order to complement the enclosed, wooded-grove feeling of the set. The actors often looked over our heads, as is they were playing to more rows of seating than there were.

All in all, the play, though not hugely ambitious, successfully does not need to rely on current trends to provide entertainment. Obsidian is atmospheric and interesting, and well worth seeing. A young company has gone beyond its student roots, to create a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and although it wasn’t perfect, I personally am excited to see the future of the Datura Collective.

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