Image credited to Love Song Productions.
If death is inevitable, why do we fear it? That was the question I was left with after watching Shaw Worth’s Wednesday, Death Meditation. The production took the audience on a brutal journey. Despite its connection to spirituality, the production emphasised the dark and emotional realities of life – suggesting that whilst one can try, nothing in life can be fully controlled.
The play follows the life of yoga instructor, Sandra (played by Rosie Owen), whose Wednesday evening meditation class becomes a vehicle to exploring and discovering her own deepest fear: loss, the loss of life, loss of control and loss of love. Through her instructions to the class, Sandra’s own emotions are brought to surface. It is revealed that her husband is due to undergo an operation that will result in the removal of his throat. As Sandra fails to control her class she becomes increasingly vulnerable, opening up about her inability to control her life.
I entered the Burton Taylor Studio surrounded by an ominous blue light and immersive music. The set by Dowon Jung was simple yet effective, with each scene skilfully presented and with a clear understanding of location. Lighting by Luke Drago harmoniously accompanied Jung’s set to create a captivating visual. As I sat in my seat I felt that I was interrupting the silence of the actors who were already perfectly positioned in deep meditation, on the stage. It was peaceful, until suddenly an audio interrupted the dream like trance. This disruption created by the jarring audio alluded to the spiritual idea of an outer body experience, immediately setting the tone of the play. Rosie Owen, who gave an outstanding performance, opened the first scene. We met the yoga class in medias res and I was left feeling as if I were somewhere I shouldn’t be – as if the audience were looking down on the actors as otherworldly beings.
The yoga class cast (Vicky Stone, Eva Stuart, Gillian Konko and Alex Bridges) offered light relief, delivering Worth’s humour tastefully, despite its tendencies to be rather dark. We were introduced to each character through their fears, in episodic scenes. Each yoga pose covered within the class offered a different conversation, developing each character and their narrative. The writing was accomplished. Sandra’s development was most impressive as initially she seemed sarcastic and rude. However, it was revealed that she was in fact the most vulnerable character of all. Her yoga class is shown to be her only form of escape, as it is the only thing that she is able to control. Tension grew throughout each episode until eventually Sandra’s truth was revealed. Breaking point was well highlighted through the use of a simple, yet dominating red light, signalling the end of the yoga group’s humour and beginning of far darker, brutal storytelling. Overall, the opening sequences offered a masterclass in theatre production and character development.
The two scenes following Sandra’s yoga class reveal her personal life – the face behind her façade. The sequence between Sandra (Rosie Owen) and Doug (Michael Yates) was gripping, tragic and emotive. Both gave an engaging and thought provoking performance. Owen offered a frustrated character whereas Yates contributed with a vacant, distanced disposition. Credit must be given to the director (Shaw Worth) and Assistant Director (Mina Moniri) as this scene not only changed the tone of the production but changed the feel within the room entirely.
The final scene focuses solely on Sandra, in isolation. I was struck by Owen’s emotional performance here as we were left unsure of what Sandra would do next. There was a large sense of ambiguity that in many ways led to my overall understanding of the play’s message: that life is not fair nor is it in our control. We are not able to have the freedom we wish and even small freedoms, like Sandra’s connection to yoga, are fleeting – breakable. Sandra’s final appearance displays her sitting still whilst music overpowers her, growing in volume. Until, suddenly, there is an abrupt cut in the soundtrack. This cut left myself, and I’m sure others, with many questions: Did she die? Was she dreaming? Or, relating to the spiritual theme, was she even born?
Overall, the play was gripping, self-searching and, in a very well executed way, devastating. The unpredictability of life is explored throughout and we are taken on a journey of ourselves, questioning what we have done, what we will do and why things turn out to be everything other than what we planned. If the play had one meaning it was that life is short, unpredictable and unfair. Yoga is cleverly used as a medium to distract from such reality yet we are constantly reminded that to be free is to accept reality, even if so often reality can hold us down and keep us down.