“Pitch Production’s latest installment is one of the most carefully crafted, unique, and evocative pieces of theatre I have seen…
Horatio Holloway has certainly been ambitious in his crafting and writing of ‘Withdrawal’, as is the entirety of the show’s cast and crew in executing this three-plus hour, Homerian-inspired Odyssey. More important than their ambition, however, is their almost perfect execution, such that Pitch Production’s latest installment is one of the most carefully crafted, unique, and evocative pieces of theatre I have seen.
Co-directing with Emily Lipscombe, assisted by Maariya Khalid, Holloway’s Odyssey centres on Max Odenthal, a Wehrmacht soldier abandoned by his comrades in the Belarussian wilderness. Pining for his lover Kai, and struggling with the crippling withdrawal effects of his addiction to pervitin, Max, played sublimely by Harry Threapleton, considers a range of subjects, including life and death, existentialism, nihilism, and free will.
Holloway’s writing maintains a beautifully evocative lyricism throughout, employing complex metaphors to explore the various philosophical concepts Max encounters. Every single scene is purposeful, intentional, and highly well crafted; no plot point feels out of place and each event lends itself to further explorations of the ideals Max engages with. There are scenes that I feel could be edited to slightly shorten the running time, and I personally feel the penultimate scene would have been a better finishing point than the final scene, but overall Holloway’s writing is sublime. Gorgeously evocative and complex yet accessible, his writing was one of the show’s key triumphs.
The directing team, alongside a production team of PMs Rory Collins and Willow Raynor, sound operator Andrew Mullins, and production designer Carrie Cheung, utilises the Mark Hillary space fantastically. The use of projections – especially those of quotes and hard-hitting facts – is particularly visually striking. These displays serve as fantastic backgrounds to moments of soliloquy, whereby Laurence Davidson, playing Kai, utilises the space wonderfully, discussing the drug-fuelled mania of this moment in German history. These and the differing levels on the stage are fantastic directorial choices to explore internal, religious, and political conflicts in quasi-Brechtian ways.
The tech team must also be commended for not only the creativity of their ideas but also the seamless execution of such. At times, discordant music underpins the action, allowing us to further understand Max’s sense of delirium, and the use of trance-style music, alongside lurid pink and strobe lighting invokes the tensions of a bad trip. The sounds of gunshots and the blackouts that follow are perfectly executed by the operators, and the entire production team should take real pride in knowing that their ideas and executions of such add so much to the overall effectiveness of the production.
The aforementioned Harry Threapleton and Laurence Davidson truly give their all on the stage. Both have lengthy soliloquies to grapple with, which they perform with conviction. Both have gorgeous rhythms to their dialogues, making every line feel truly natural, performing Holloway’s writing at its massive potential. In the penultimate scene, Threapleton offers some of the most raw, vulnerable acting I have seen, in a scene when writing, directing, acting, and tech come together so beautifully (hence why I would have preferred to see that as the final scene!); his stooped posture, vulnerable tone, and pleading facial expressions truly demonstrate his strengths as a wonderfully rounded actor. Threapleton was equally wonderful in moments of extreme anger, where his erratic mannerisms juxtaposed Max’s usual vulnerabilities. Davidson charms the audience, with his flamboyant gesturing, sarcastic witticisms, and equally gentle moments of tenderness. He is particularly effective in scenes where Kai ‘haunts’ Max (at this point high on pervitin), commanding the audience from behind the gauze, another highly effective design choice. The pair work gorgeously together to create a dynamic, tender relationship.
Another standout performance comes from Iqra Khadiza as the Siren, who is completely astounding in her retelling of previous trauma, demonstrating impressive conviction. Knowing perfectly when to restrain and when to release immense emotion, her lengthy, emotional monologue is without doubt one of the most impressive moments of the show. Cory Broadbent similarly has a fantastic performance, multi-rolling and adjusting his physicality and voice accordingly for each character he played, taking on both naturalistic and more symbolic roles. Iris Varla’s multi-rolling is steeped in poignancy, and her impressive stage presence shines especially in her lengthy periods of non-speaking. Ned Freij is incredibly strong in his portrayal of the commander, full of sneering, mocking attitude towards the troops, his impressive physicality creating extreme discomfort. Kudos should be given to every cast member, who all embody their characters in entirety, and very effectively perform a challenging script with demanding direction.
Overall ‘Withdrawal’ is a complete powerhouse. Carefully crafted writing, evocative acting, considered direction, and seamless execution of creative technical aspects come together in a production that impressively merges elements of naturalism, surrealism, and epic theatre. Unique both in its ideas, and its executions, the show is truly not one to miss.
By Sarah Kelly
Photo Credits – Pitch Productions