Pharmacy: The Enchanted

The Enchanted is a vibrant, devised adaptation of Rene Denfeld’s novel of the same name from young company Pharmacy (recent graduates), who employ a range of effective techniques to bring the hard-hitting and well-written narrative to life. In the dim semi-round space, half hidden within a network of small moveable cages, a group of figures crouch, wearing the muted greys and oranges of prison-regulation clothing. This sets the scene well for a story communicated by a narrator-like figure, the selective mute Arden. An inmate on death row, he silently watches proceedings unfold and relays them back to us in bursts of lyrical description. Actor Max Sisterton characterises him beautifully, with a twitchy nervy physicality and a confiding tone that had the unsettling effect of making me warm to him despite being aware of the fact that I had no idea what his own crime might be. ‘The most wonderful enchanted things happen here’ he tells us, spinning descriptions of magical corridors and how valuable it is to him to see a sliver of the sky from a window, in this way making sense of things and providing a stark contrast to the grim reality of the situation. So the stylistic tone of the piece is set, combining strong elements of physical theatre with what seems to be a mix of Artaudian and Brechtian influences; the repeated use of breath to signify tension, some bombardment of the senses, and an emphasis on gestures to establish status. There is also strong use of episodic scenes, direct audience address, and the breaking of the action to produce alienation and keep one constantly thinking.

In this uneasy environment, we meet York, a wild-eyed self-confessed sociopath who is soon to be executed and is refusing to appeal. As with Arden, there is something very absorbing about the way that he is played, an intensity in Hunter Bishop’s technique that is entirely realistic and at times genuinely frightening. York’s backstory plays out through flashbacks and interviews with the Investigator, a persistent character who unearths a story of horrendous abuse and poverty, played with gusto and real physical dexterity by Siwan Clark. This is disturbing and intense fodder, exploring themes including the cyclical nature of violence, brutality and redemption.

The stimuli material of Denfeld’s novel itself proves an excellent source to explore dramatically, and is well handled by the youthful cast. The simple design aesthetic and very precise choreography lent a tangible tension which kept me engrossed, with some inventive direction from Connie Treves. The key characters, as consistent with the style of a novel, had a real chance to shine with meaty material and roles, and were well supported by a honed ensemble, whom I would have liked to see pushed a bit further with more extended roles. In the same vein, where puppetry was used, it could perhaps have been more consistent as a motif and developed a little more fully.

However, these are minor quibbles with what was a highly engaging piece with the power, in the best Brechtian fashion, to make the viewer really consider the ethics of the material presented. Asked how do we stop men like these happening, and are monsters born, or are they created, the answer for me is far more complex than I may have thought it before I came to this piece. When I learned York’s history, brought to life in startling detail, I couldn’t help but question whether his death could be morally justified, and an even further layer is added to this dilemma in that, all along, all he actually wants to do is die. Such dilemmas and their communication here have had a lasting impact, and overall this was a raw and brave production from a company with real potential.



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About Sarah Davies

Sarah is a Drama Lecturer (UAL Acting and Applied Drama), Freelance Writer, Facilitator and Improviser who has written for Total Theatre Magazine since 2011. Recent work includes play commissions from Theatre Centre, Menagerie Theatre and Now Press Play, and facilitation/directing for The Marlowe Theatre, All The World's a Stage and Improv Gym. Her recent improv performances include Mount Olymprov (Greece) with Big Bang Improv Boston, Amsterdam Improv Marathon,and Improfest (London).