Oct 7 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Powerful

Traverse: Thu 5 – Sat 7 Oct 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Disciples from Stellar Quines and the Traverse is an arresting piece of drama and movement, playing at the Traverse until Saturday and transferring to Newcastle’s Northern Stage in November.

Directed by Rachel Drazek and written by Ellen Renton, the work was conceived by the two of them and devised by the ensemble. Intended to be a work ‘that prioritises women and non-binary people in celebratory, complex and maybe surprising ways’, the piece is certainly both refreshing and moving.

Sally Clay, Laura Fisher, Rana Bader, Irina Vartopeanu and Emma McCaffrey in Disciples by Stellar Quines. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Using words, music and movement, the five performers tell stories of lives and experiences of those who are disabled, D/deaf, neurodivergent or have visual impairment; stories still far too often ignored and only rarely depicted on stage. The ensemble features Emma McCaffrey (recently seen as part of the award-winning cast of Castle Lennox), Rana Bader, musician Sally Clay, Irina Vartopeanu and dance artist Laura Fisher.

Too often depictions of such experiences can come across as patronising, or as if those of us who do not live with a disability are tourists in another world. There is never any danger of that here, with the agency given to the ensemble expressed with urgency in both anger and joy, in an exploration of faith, trust and the apparently simple act of taking up space.

coherent emotional arc

Although the narrative is fragmentary, there is a wonderfully pellucid feel to the storytelling and to the movement. Integrating the spoken word and movement is not easy, but Drazek and Renton display considerable theatrical intelligence in the way they have fashioned such a piece with a coherent emotional arc. This is echoed in Zephyr Liddell’s colour-coded costumes and sparse set and Elle Taylor’s expressive lighting.

The Disciples community choir. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The music – whether provided by Clay onstage or in the sound design of Niroshini Thambar, is similarly affecting. The use of stringed instruments, such as Clay’s harp and what sounds like oud and kora in Thambar’s contributions, has a spare, plangent quality that is both melancholy and defiant.

Which is echoed in the rest of the performances, whether it is Fisher’s movement, alternately sweeping and frustrated, Vartopeanu’s eloquent use of BSL as an end in itself rather than an adjunct, or the energy and imagination of Bader and McCaffrey’s acting.

A community choir feature for one song early on, which is perhaps not so clearly connected to the rest of the piece, but provide an interesting contrast nevertheless.

There is definitely a sense of community running throughout this production, as well as real power.

Running time: One hour and 10 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Thursday 5 – Saturday 7 October 2023
Daily 7.30 pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
The Saturday matinee is a relaxed performance;
Saturday evening is a dedicated mask-wearing performance.

Details and tickets: Book here.

Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RH
Tuesday 7 – Thursday 9 November
Evening: 7.30pm.
Details and tickets: Book here.


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