18 Oct 2009

The Idiot Colony at Trestle Arts Base

This week we had the fantastic Red Cape Theatre Company bring their award-winning show The Idiot Colony to Trestle Arts Base.

The Idiot Colony is based on real life accounts of the treatment and incarceration of young women in mental asylums during 1940s England. This might not appear to be the stuff of a fun night out at the theatre; yet despite the serious subject matter the show was funny, poignant and affecting, if at times quietly unnerving.

The Idiot Colony was created after two years of research and interviews with former patients, mental health workers including those who lived and worked at St. Margaret's Hospital, Great Barr - known locally as The Idiot Colony. Trestle Arts Base, Trestle's home in St Albans, is housed in the former chapel of Hill End Hospital, once itself a lunatic asylum. Trestle's Community Company produced a promenade performance earlier this year called Out of Sight Out of Mind, which offered a journey through the building and into the minds of the patients and staff who lived and worked at the hospital over a 100 year period. Out of Sight Out of Mind, like The Idiot Colony, told stories that were full of sadness and pity, but also full of great humour and courage.

The imagery and lighting on stage was incredible. The set was simple but used to great effect. White towels were a key feature of almost every scene - most memorable were the bath and rain storm scenes. Another highlight was the portrayal of a romance between one of the patients and an African American GI; one of the actresses 'blacks up' in order to relive the love affair that saw her incarcerated in the first place.

Unfortunately a lot of the acting took place on the floor and due to poor sight lines (which surely they've experienced in other venues and might have accommodated for?) most of the audience missed out on what were probably quite poignant and powerful moments.

The Idiot Colony has won a stack of awards at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has had great critical acclaim. The Times called it "...an affecting, humorous piece of physical theatre" and The Metro said is was "...endlessly inventive, thoroughly disquieting. It's stunning". The full house at Trestle Arts Base also seemed enamoured with the play. Definately one to look out for as it tours the UK. Click here for tour dates.

By Gemma

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