Following successful runs at both the Edinburgh Festival and Hope Theatre in 2018, Chalk Line Theatre’s debut production Testament, which explores suicide, loss and survivor’s guilt, has returned to the Hope in time to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
After surviving a car accident in which his girlfriend Tess (Jessica Frances) died, Max (Nicholas Shalebridge) attempts to take his own life. When his suicide attempt fails and he wakes up in hospital, Max believes Tess to still be alive, due to a brain injury threatening his life. As his brother Chris (William Shackleton) battles to save him, Max tries to piece together why Tess isn’t by his bedside, with a little help from Jesus (David Angland) and Lucifer (Daniel Leadbitter), and he faces a choice between living or saying a final goodbye to the love of his life.
Writer Sam Edmunds has created a compelling piece of theatre, a brave story of grief, loss and guilt. Edmunds co-directs with William Harrison and together they have produced a bold, energetic play often frantic in pace, offering a glimpse into Max’s thoughts. Hospital scenes are woven in among flashbacks of Max’s relationship with Jess, including their first meeting during a frenzied club scene, complete with shots and a splashing of Lynx Africa. Where Testament particularly excels is in its slick choreographed movement pieces, when the cast come together as one to recreate a menacing medical procedure and the car crash which kick-started this series of events.
Becca White’s staging is simple but effective, making great use of the Hope’s intimate spacing. The hospital bed doubles up as a car, while sections of bumper and headlights hang from either side of the stage and are cleverly used throughout the piece. The production is a clever assault on the senses, with William Harrison’s at times frantic sound combining well with Alan Walden’s strobe lighting effects, reflecting Max’s chaotic state of mind.
The cast, which includes a number of recent East 15 Acting School graduates, all do a fantastic job. Nicholas Shalebridge leads the group well and effectively portrays the two sides of Max – the happy, silly, loved-up man who adores his girlfriend and the confused, jittery, blinking shell of a person trying to find out has happened to Tess. It’s in the moments when Max becomes more crazed that Shalebridge particularly excels. Jessica Frances is endearingly and sweet as his love interest, William Shackleton is believable as Max’s supportive brother, and Shireenah Ingram also convinces as his doctor . Meanwhile David Angland and Daniel Leadbitter bring a touch of comic relief to the production as Jesus and Lucifer, with Leadbitter’s portrayal of a forceful toilet attendant in the nightclub scene one of the standout moments of the whole show.
Chalk Line Theatre’s production is staged in association with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), and Testament deals with the difficult but important subject of men’s mental health both sensitively and effectively. While there are times when the action borders on absurdity it doesn’t detract from the production, instead succeeding to reflect the reality and chaos of grief – anyone who has suffered a loss will likely relate – and these light-hearted scenes work well to make the devastating moments more impactful. Boasting a standout cast, tight direction and an imaginative script Testament is a bold, creative and inspired play with a neat and clever twist. More importantly Testament shines a light on men’s mental health and, with suicide the biggest killer of men under 45, this can only be a good thing.
Testament is running at the Hope Theatre until Saturday 1 June.