Imagination intensified

Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Queensland Theatre, Diane Cilento Studio

December 1 – 11

Experience of Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” is an intense one, elevated by its grounding in truth; the Australian premiere show is inspired by two true stories “Ghost Boy” by Martin Pistorius and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Baub, which both share about the experiences of living with Locked-In Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that sees a fully aware patient unable to move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes.

To create a piece of physical theatre centred around a character prisoned in his body and unable to move, certainly represents a creative challenge, however, under Veronica Neave’s considered and controlled direction, the company succeeds in its focus on movement rather than words as the main means of communication. This is emphasised through the dialogue of that patient’s wife (Hsin-Ju Ely) who does not speak English, which represents no issue, given that manner in which the show transcends language to compellingly illustrate the impact that such a condition can have on loved ones, in addition to the sufferer themselves, in terms of connection, communication, hope and loss of a relationship as they knew it.

Given the context of its story, “Locked In” is, appropriately, a delicate show of small moments and movements as it explores the physicality of stillness. The challenging role of playing the unnamed central character is assumed by Sam Foster. He speaks only with his eyes for most of the show, yet still says volumes in a very powerful performance. Testament to the essential empathy evoked by his performance is the fact that the show’s biggest audience reactions come in response to moments of casual cruelty of his carer‘s (Hayden Jones) mistreatment and manipulation of the instinctive trust that comes with the power dynamic of physical reliance.

For 75-minutes audience are treated to innovative theatre, in terms of both the show’s themes and execution of taking us into the mind of a sufferer of the syndrome, where the only key is imagination. The multidisciplinary production weaves together physical theatre, magic realism and contemporary dance to both give us a glimpse into this and invigorate the heavy work’s pacing. Vibrant video projection easily takes us from the harsh reality of a hospital room to the heightened experience of his internal existence, while sound and lighting lure us into the escapism of the vibrant fantasy world in which he can also hold his wife’s fingers and enact Mission Impossible style escapades.

“Locked In” is a unique, quality theatre experience, as inspiring as it might be harrowing. In its evocation of the empathy that exists at the core of the shared human condition, it provokes contemplation of how we communicate with each other through the lens of how we treat those in hospice care. Indeed, the exploration of this universal theme from such a particular story is what makes it such a thought-provoking piece, stopping audience members to sit for a moment after its experience as they collectively contemplate the immense weight of its ideas.

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