Tweetingit: 4* an engrossing study of the pupil/teacher relationship and attitudes towards disability. A sometimes heavy going but ultimately rewarding experience.
The ridiculously convenient Park Theatre sprang another surprise on me last night; a small but beautifully formed studio theatre upstairs, mysteriously dubbed Park 90. An excellent performance area is distinguished by a brilliantly simple lighting system. Schism is ostensibly set in an office with a window represented on stage by a Venetian blind. The blades gradually space out as they gently wind across the ceiling; strategically placed lights are trained upwards and onto the blades creating an amazing series of shadows. The effect is amazing and builds the atmosphere in the transition between scenes.
Schism tells the story of Harrison (Jonathan McGuiness) a failed architect who has settled for life as a high school maths teacher. He is contemplating suicide when Katherine (Athena Stevens) breaks into his flat seeking help. Katherine has cerebral palsy and largely confined to a wheelchair. She recognises Harrison as a teacher from school and is convinced he can help her escape special measures. Most importantly, Katherine wants to be treated like any other student and not someone with a disability.
Gradually, Katherine makes progress with close personal tuition from Harrison and eventually prepares to enter university. However, Harrison believes she should study for a teaching qualification, but Katherine has her heart set on architecture. Matters are somewhat complicated when they begin a tempestuous relationship. Harrison is naturally protective of Katherine and overcompensates for her disability; Katherine meanwhile craves a conventional existence; and wants to live and work as an able-bodied person would.
The play is a thought-provoking experience that rightly challenges our perceptions. The audience is confronted with uncomfortable truths about society’s general attitude to disability; the apparent lack of understanding at school; barriers to entering certain professions and inflexible views of some to personal relationships. Katherine experienced them all and much more. It reminds us that we often see the disability before we see the person. However, skilful scripting allows the audience to view the characters trying to build and maintain a relationship like any other couple.
Athena Stevens has written a remarkably powerful play and draws the audience in with a unique brand of storytelling. Athena works well on stage with Jonathan McGuiness, who also doubles up as the play’s narrator. It can be heavy going at times because the subject matter is so challenging. But overall, a hugely rewarding experience and a pleasure to watch such good actors at work.
Author: Athena Stevens
Director: Lily McLeish
Producer: Aegis Productions in association with the Park Theatre
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/schism
Booking Until: 9 June 2018