Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Mapping the Soul by Lucy Gough
First presented in 2001 by Castaway Community Theatre

A large cast play for Castaway Community Theatre Co and Aberystwyth Arts Centre

   There are 2 reviews of Castaway Community Theatre's Mapping the Soul in our database:
Mapping the Soul by Lucy Gough
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Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Lucy Gough’s themes are the soul versus the intellect; knowledge versus imagination; the nature of death – and more importantly that place between life and death Gough calls Dread. All these meet in a dynamic, amazingly full one hour of pure theatre. Her theatre touches on all theatre. There is something Attic about her preoccupations and so, appropriately, the play opens with a Chorus which, essentially, keeps us in touch with the philosophy of the piece in a marvellously engaging way. The Chorus is not just wise but often humorous and musical. The actresses of the Chorus – Claire N Jones, Wendy Owen, Sue Jenkins and Norma Izon, perform fantastically well, moving among the audience and keeping the pulse of the piece throbbing.

Lucy Gough’s writing is magical. It takes us into places we rarely think about overwhelmed as we are by the ultimately unmysterious, banal world of TV drama. Which is a strange thing because Gough writes on one of the most popular soaps Hollyoaks. But I find no conflict in this. It merely confirms for me the impressiveness of her talent. And there’s something sweet about the idea that this writer, while producing work that is the curse of theatre is so much more in touch with theatre than many of Britain’s better known playwrights. Within the hour we make contact not only with Attic Greek theatre but with Shakespeare and Yoric’s skull (two fantastic gravediggers in Andre Burnham and Richard Wagland), the mystery plays, pantomime (the hilarious antics of Lindsay Blumfield and Chris Baglin) and, for me, such modern masters as Bond. I’ve always thought that Lucy Gough’s writing is like Bond’s not so much, perhaps, in her themes as in the execution of them.

The play concerns Adam and Eve (played with an engaging laid-backness by Nigel Petts and Elly Brown) who are essentially looking for the meaning of life. Adam wonders whether he’ll find it in the dictionary perhaps in a word like Genome. Does the meaning of life reside in the discoveries of science and the mapping of the Genome or does it lie in the soul? If so, where is the soul? Where can you find it? A splendidly manic Justin Lyons – a Frankenstein figure of an anatomist, and his assistant Jim Finnis who delivers one of the best moments with a crazed outburst towards the end search for it in the head of a dead poet. But in the end you may map the Genome but you can’t map the soul. In fact, the whole Genome project is a con, because what makes us human is our imagination and our creativity; what makes us different. These reside in mystery. It’s in not knowing that we find ourselves.

It’s astonishing that there’s so much going on and so many areas of experience visited and at the same time there is a clarity burning through the mists of mystery. This is achieved by the strong focal thread of Adam’s journey; his world is invaded by the other worlds. The writing isn’t only robust and clear headed but is peppered with marvellous moments of wit and humour.

All the cast are extremely good: the Poet, Rhys Kelly, the Soul Tim Jackson, Stuart Jones as God and Skullcoat, Ian Gledhill as Death, Douglas Gunasinghe as the Hung Man. And in an astonishing moment of peace and stillness that suggested a moment of soulful epiphany, Virginie Mazauer as Beauty presenting the mirror to the man – Everyman – Adam.

I want to mention everyone because these are all amateurs (which makes you wonder what our drama schools are doing, often sending out students who have UNlearned the art of acting!) and need to be applauded. So there were the Wolfpackers Ian Nicoll. Karl Hatton and, for some, the star of the show Jacob Llyr and the beautifully sensual Sirens Sara Hedges, Caroline Dalziel-Riddell and Kathleen Brancaccio. And finally the Sineaters Heather Giles, Danielle Marsden and Rebecca Morice.

What’s really satisfying about the piece is that the play itself reflects the creativity in the acting and the mystery is, I suppose, how did they do it. Well, David Blumfield’s directing is highly accomplished. He manages to choreograph in a myriad of scenes with often manic entrances and exits a cast of twenty seven in a small space with hardly a glitch. Of course there are uncertain moments but this was the last night of a three night run. This show and its cast and the back-stagers Neil Rose, Maria Betteridge and Designer Rick Gough deserve a run of at least a month so that they may be adequately rewarded for their effort.
Dic Edwards
Mapping the Soul by Lucy Gough
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Aberystwyth Arts Centre
This past weekend, Castaway Community Theatre observed the ten-year anniversary of its existence with Lucy Gough’s new play Mapping the Soul, directed by David Blumfield. In writing this play, Gough has picked up the Mediaeval Christian religious drama and taken it to some interesting places, many of which were pretty much beyond the edges of the Mediaeval writers’ map. Gough promises to map the mind “from Genesis to the genome” and she fulfils her promise.

This is a perfectly appropriate tradition for Castaway to revive for their anniversary, if one considers that the original Corpus Christi plays put on by the artisans’ guilds were community theatre, involving lots of people who were not theatre professionals in creative, engaging, town-wide performance events. By often attempting to tell the history of the world, past, present, and future, the writers and performers of these plays were being really ambitious. Mapping the Soul is ambitious, too. Although in some places—as I’ll get to later—Gough sticks to conventions a bit too much—the performance as a whole is enjoyable, sometimes humorous, always mesmerising. Like the pit in the middle of the playing space which characters sometimes fall into, and other lie in wait outside, the play sucks the viewer into its dark, dark vacuum.

The names of the characters are wonderful. Through Mapping the Soul creep “sineaters” and “wolfpackers.” The scientists (Justin Lyons and Jim Finnis) are “anatomists”: the entrails of cadavers, grey matter, skeletons and working muscles burst through that name and confront the audience. Here, God is called “Skullcoat” and there are no good and bad angels: only “Fellswoop” (Lindsay Blumfield) and “Underlife” (Chris Baglin) as played with lots of contention, verve, and humour by Lindsay Blumfield and Chris Baglin.

The acting was uniformly good. Eve (Elly Brown) played her objectives with an incredible intensity, and the packs of gravediggers, beggars, sineaters, and wolfpackers worked together well. One scene in which actors chanted a song from between two rows of the audience was gripping, I can still remember the words. Accompanied by drumming, the chant was a current, upon which the auditor’s mind may easily come unmoored.

The set and costumes, designed by Rick Gough, work very well. The elevated area and “pit” were another reminder of the playwright’s influences, but also illustrated the soaring heights and obscure depths of the mind which the play explores. Also one absolutely had to see Adam and Eve’s fig (or was it ivy?) leaves safety-pinned to kilts and Fellswoop and Underlife’s bizarre and cute prosthetic beaks and wings. But the most memorable costume piece, in my opinion, was the simplest: the mask Skullcoat wears to address Adam and Eve. It was a circle of white paper with eye and mouth holes cut out of it. Blank paper. The designer refuses to illustrate the face of God: to humanity it appears blank.

Although I realise that this play tries to keep in touch with its predecessors in the Mediaeval tradition, including Everyman and Mankind, I found it interesting and slightly illogical that the playwright and the characters explore “the soul of man.” It is true that the biblical Eve is also present, carting her sins round the world in a suitcase which she resolutely refuses to relinquish to the delightfully grotesque, ravenous “sineaters,” but the modern Anatomist, his Assistant, and the Poet (Rhys Kelly) are all men. At first I assumed that by “the soul of man” Gough means “the soul of humanity” but part of creative writing is finding words to describe things that are as close as you can get to exactly what you mean, and Gough is clearly a versatile and truly creative writer, so I’m sure she could have found—or invented—a word that means everyone, humanity, not “men only” or “men as default” or “men, read: everyone.”

In Mapping the Soul, Adam (Nigel Petts) pages through books and challenges God with the idea that his soul doesn’t exist, while Eve warns him that he shouldn’t—but offers him the fruit of transgression. The “poet” whose soul is savaged by sineaters and scientists is amusing, but he also perfectly fits the definition of the legitimate poet—black-clothed, detached from society, melancholic, defenceless, and male—which has locked out so many poets who are female or who otherwise don’t fit the definition.

Dr. Rosalind Franklin, one of James Watson and Francis Crick’s research partners in the project that would make the those men Nobel laureates was a woman. It has been demonstrated that Franklin’s contributions were indispensable to the identification of the DNA molecule, but our idea of the ‘mad scientist’ playing God is still the white-coated man in the black-and-white horror flick. Part of being creative is considering and daring to investigate and express the real, even if reality doesn’t conform to recognisable type. I am not suggesting that all these characters should have been women, or that the play wasn’t great, but sometimes neglecting to question an assumption looks like re-enforcing it.

I like the idea of there being some place in the dark dark depths of our minds where, as Castaway’s actors chanted, “metaphors swim the seas until bloodily harpooned.” Writing, making drama, making art—like genome research—harnesses destructive as well as creative impulses. Gough exposes that, in perfectly unnerving, starkly imaginable words.
Rebecca Nesvet

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