“The Laramie Project” is a script I’ve read and studied many times before, but actually have never seen performed live on stage before. Constructed purely from interviews conducted by the the Tectonic Theatre Company with the locals of Laramie, the play details the life and death of Matthew Sheppard, who at the age of 21 fell victim to a vicious hate crime, tortured and murdered by local boys Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson on the outskirts of his home town. The play serves to translate to the audience the effect Sheppard’s murder had on the global debates regarding homophobia and hate crime legislation, as well as the impact it had on the small town in which it occurred, through the format of “Verbatim Theatre”. Due to both the abnormal nature of the play’s design as well as the confronting nature of its content, “The Laramie Project” remains one of the most difficult plays to perform and get right. However, due to an incredible amount of effort, talent and reverence, it is a play that PEP Productions absolutely nails.
There can be no eluding the fact that the Doncaster Playhouse is not the most luxurious or well equipped venue when it comes to staging live theatre. However, this isn’t something that Director Justin Cleaver attempts to avoid, but embraces in translating the rawness of the show. There is something incredibly surreal about a performance that does away with the distractions of an elaborate set that threatens to intrude on the audience’s focus, and is all the better because of it. The performance instead utilises the talent of its actors, the relevance of it’s themes and innovative nature of its format to impress. It is the sincerity of this approach that allows Cleaver to capture the power and transparency of “The Laramie Project”.
Usually in a review, I try to pinpoint two or three individuals that “stood out” as particularly impressive performers – however with a show like this one, such a task is impossible. It speaks wonders of a cast’s ability and dynamic when you witness a show that is so consistent that it almost feels as though you are not watching 8 different actors on stage, but one sole body. This is a cast who displays such a strong sense of awareness and such an impressive level of concentration that the audience can’t help but mirror the investment of those standing before them. Another factor that has contributed to this result is how impeccably choreographed and polished all aspects of this performance are. The level of versatility held by each actor is simultaneously an incredible achievement, having to each portray any number of separate characters and establish a concrete differentiation between them all. The entire ensemble deserves to be congratulated for their efforts in embodying the heartache and division that haunted Laramie following these events.
If anything, the events that have unfolded in America over the last couple of days only serve to prove how relevant the themes of the play still are and how crucial it is that Matthew Shepard’s story continues to be shared today. With “The Laramie Project”, PEP Productions have staged an honest and deeply emotional piece of theatre that truly feels like less of a performance and more of a shared experience. If you are a fan of theatre that has something meaningful to say about the society in which it is performed, theatre which forms such an intimate relationship with its audience that you can’t help but be completely overwhelmed by the sincerity and honesty of a performance: “The Laramie Project” by PEP Productions is not a show that you can afford to miss.
For more information about the show or to book tickets, you can visit their website: http://pepproductions.org.au