Review – The Witness

Aug 20 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Provocative, cryptic thought-experiment

The Witness - publicity shot

The Witness – publicity shot

Venue 13
Sat 10 – Sat 17 August 2013
Review by Mark Bolsover

Strong, confident performances from Thrive Theatre, in association with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, mark out Alex Hope’s cleverly-written and intriguing hypothetical thought-experiment.

Hope questions what happens when someone becomes incidentally enmeshed in a fraught and high-profile incident – and the impossibilities that this presents for any attempt to communicate and record both the event itself and the nature of one’s own involvement.

In sparse, clinical surroundings, a woman is interviewed by successive officials. She is attempting to give a set of facts – the narrative of a controversial and critical event – for the last time. But these facts are not her own…

The play’s sparse set – the ominous presence of a hospital bed and a simple table and chairs, all decked out in the same, unsettling sterile, clinical white – makes good use of Venue 13’s impressive black box space.

The cast, Aleda Bliss, Bertie Taylor-Smith and Alex Hope trade,  in the main, on nervous, stilted, formal exchanges between the interviewee and what is intimated to be a medical professional; and between the same interviewee and someone who professes to a be a government official.

The mistrust, anxiety and difficulties and frustrations of framing discourse according to formal and legal convention are well played here, and the tense, nervous physical acting, especially on the part of Bliss as the interviewee is very effective.

The Witness plays out through the composition of official documents, formal reports, a recorded interview and details from a sketchbook. There are strange, disturbing and abstract fragments, of answer phone message recordings whose relation to the main narrative is never entirely clear.

There are only facts here and no real details. The intervention of medical and possibly governmental influences, combined with the intimation of media involvement cut off the possibility of any direct explication of context. Alex Hope’s script works exclusively through allusion and intimation to a situation, intimate familiarity with which is, it is suggested, assumed by each of the characters of the others and therefore ultimately eludes the audience.

Tantalising visual and verbal clues are given (references to ‘Princes’, gender and age are given). There are distinct intimations here and a conclusion is clearly meant to be reached on precisely what is being intimated. A narrative just about promises to unfold here – yet remains tantalisingly and frustratingly withheld.

The Witness is, ultimately, a play about the impossibilities of communication and thus of political and legal self-representation and self-understanding, played out through a hypothetical thought-experiment which obstinately and effectively hovers at the level of thwarted intimation.

Running time: 1hr
Run ends 17th August 2013
Daily 21.30
Venue 13, Lochend Close, Canongate, EH8 8BL
Tickets from:
Thrive Theatre website:


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