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New theatre group Bison Arts Collective stage ‘beguiling’ first project

PUBLISHED: 15:00 18 November 2016

Flory Ogilvy in Don & Shel. Picture: Tor Richards

Flory Ogilvy in Don & Shel. Picture: Tor Richards

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Kathleen Kennedy’s Don & Shel is an ‘intense and dramatic 50 minutes of theatre’

Clever use of lighting, space and sound makes Don & Shel an engrossing and beguiling first project from emerging theatre group Bison Arts Collective.

Performed in the basement of The Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon Road, the intimate two person play takes its audience on an intense and constantly shifting journey.

Customers are led down to the pub’s cellar where 50 people cram in on fold out chairs.

The low ceilings and bright, acrid lighting add to the sense of claustrophobia, as do to the two characters Don and Shel, played by Bison founders Roseanna Brear and Flora Ogilvy.

As people take their seats in a small circle around a bare stone performance area, the duo, dressed in grey dirty tracksuits, stare menacingly at their spectators.

The play, written by New York based writer Kathleen Kennedy, begins with Don dominating timid Shel, questioning her and the audience aggressively.

You learn small details about the pair - neither has eaten for a while and it appears Shel has been forced on Don, who doesn’t take her presence kindly.

You know the pair are trapped somewhere, but questions remain unanswered – where are they, why are they there, what did they do?

The two characters seem frequently on the edge of sanity, shouting, scribbling on walls and ripping fabric.

The concoction of smells of chalk and burnt matches, together with the eerily oppressive score, played live by Australian electronic musician Joshua Spencer, steadily adds to the tension.

Suddenly there is a shift in power. Don stays sleeping and the previously soft Shel ties her up and begins to psychologically torture her.

It’s gripping if sometimes painful viewing, which keeps the audience engrossed to the end.

The play is a perfect example of successfully integrating the acting, setting and music to create an intense and dramatic 50 minutes of theatre.

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