THEATRE REVIEW: The Laramie Project ★★★★

The Laramie Project
Western Studio, Bristol Old Vic
Thursday 20th - Saturday 29th February 2020

To Celebrate LGBT History Month, and marking the 20th Anniversary of Moisés Kaufman harrowing play, The Laramie Project tells the verbatim aftemath of Matthew Shepard's murder in 1998, and how it changed the community of Laramie in Wyoming, with a population of 26,687. For this particular production, Nancy Medina has taken the directorial position, with Laura Hensley assisting Medina in this Bristol Old Vic Theatre School offering.

We're transported straight to Laramie when the lights dim for the first act as we hear from a plethora of citizens in the area, who recall the days before Shepard's death, as reports travel to unravel the lead-up to the shocking events. This cast, made up of a fifteen strong ensemble, move with precision and drive as we bounce from one report to another, each performer portraying at least four to five locals, which comes with a flurry of personas and facial expressions which pushes the creativity of Bea Wilson's costume design, which is set against Carly Brownbridge's splintered reflected backdrop, which swivels round to reveal pivotal projections of news outlets, the clear blue sky, and a thundering storm that rains down at the climax of the first act.

Amongst the ensemble members, those who stand out particular for their skill of mulitoling range from Rory Alexander, Olivia Edwards, Nimshi Kongolo, Alice Moore, and Daniel Radze. It's Sebastian Orozco as Doc O'Connor, and Isobel Coward's Reggie Fluty, who will both truly silence the auditorium so much as to hear a pin drop, from their horrendous and frankly powerful speeches; O'Connor's constant updates of Shepard's health status in hospital accumulates to a resting monologue that Orozco delivers with sheer vulnerability and heartbreak, whist Fluty's in-depth description of Shepard's body when he was initially found lying on the ground is a defining moment for Coward, who overall continues to deliver nothing but perfection in every persona she exudes.

Jenny Roxburgh's lighting seeps throughout the playing space and bleeds into the audience as specific states highlight the light and dark of those who have lived in Laramie, which Danny Davie's sound design makes you feel uncomfortable, in moments of deep thought which merge chattering with games entertainment in the background during scenes set inside the tavern, which news reports hurl and fill your head following the attack on Shepard, with a ghostly sense of horror as we watch on.

Overall, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School's staging of Kaufman's piece feels as powerful and underrated as ever, with some truly harrowing moments of dread and electric performances, making it's themes feel all to real and almost like set during our time, a sign that change is still to come.

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