A wonderfully imaginative take on the psychological effects of warfare, set to the backdrop of a dystopian future. Anthony Orme’s Sanctuary is a rare instance of science fiction working successfully on the stage.
As a self-professed amateur writer and lover of science fiction, I have always toyed with the idea of bringing the genre to the stage. But it is tricky to figure out what will work. A lot of science fiction relies heavily on world building, the process by which one establishes a large-scale world very different from our own. The trick would be to find a concept that is simple and doesn’t require bulky exposition and ‘info dumping.’ Sanctuary manages to remain compelling and energetic while also establishing the setting of a war torn Earth in 2040.
Anthony Orme, writer and director, has a fantastic eye for pacing and a wonderful ear for soundscapes. The play, clocking in at 60 minutes, doesn’t drag or fall flat. Every moment of the play is a new revelation about the main character and the world she lives in. The audience is kept on their toes with a nostalgic score (I am now in love with lead character Kari Allwood’s favourite song “Sanctuary“) and bone-chilling sound effects, both of which help to bring a sense of realism to the far-off and futuristic setting. In hindsight, I would say there were moments in the piece that were a little repetitive and overstated. But all in all, Orme has created something so inspired. You can see that he really understands his own creation.
Elizabeth Robin plays the emotionally volatile Kari Allwood with wonderful intensity. Kari is trapped within a four walled world with no doors or exits. There are only a few amenities, and no other company but the voice of a computer (S.A.M.) who provides no comfort at all. As the play progresses, we discover that she is in a “sanctuary” dedicated to rehabilitating her after her many years of military service. Watching Robin as she smashes her hands against the walls and curses the unhelpful robot voice, we get the impression of a caged animal; her violent instincts making her restless and uncooperative. As the play progresses, we get to see a more delicate (even joyful) side to Kari as she warms to her rehabilitation. Sanctuary is a wonderful display of Elizabeth Robin’s versatility and passion and I will definitely be going to see more of her work in future.
If Elizabeth Robin is the comic, Catalina Blackman is the glue that holds Sanctuary together. Providing the voice of S.A.M. and appearing on stage for a brief few moments as Kari’s lover Jessica, Blackman makes a big impression.. Clearly a seasoned voiceover professional, Blackman brings class and authenticity to the piece. Her comedic timing is exceptional, providing some much needed comic relief in moments of true despair. The sensitivity provided by Blackman’s voice, when S.A.M. reveals to Kari shocking pieces of information, was enough to bring me to a small tear. How she managed to switch between her frantic moments of stage time and her calm methodical vocal work (without any heavy breathing into the microphone) was a mystery to me. Although she only appeared on stage for around 2 minutes, this play was undoubtedly a duologue. Elizabeth Robin and Catalina Blackman make an excellent team.
Sanctuary is a sci-fi play, but isn’t just for sci-fi fans. The opening 15 minutes of the play were reminiscent of Jean-Paul Satre’s Huis Clos (Kari and S.A.M. being Garcin and the Valet, respectively). As long as certain conventions of theatre are adhered to – with regards to pacing, structure and dialog – you can tell any story you like on the stage. I congratulate Anthony Orme for being brave and talented enough to bring his ambitious vision to the Tristan Bates Theatre.