The Human Ear – Alma Tavern Theatre ***

TheHumanEar©FarrowsCreative (1)

The human ear is unique. There are no two the same, 7.4 billion pairs all unique and with their own genetic makeup. Ears can and will reveal your true self.  Identity is at the heart of Alexandra Wood’s The Human Ear, a play that shifts through genres; from psychological thriller, haunting ghost story, familial drama; before losing its way a little with a rote ending that wraps things up way too neatly for what has come before. It is a shame that this falls flat for what has come before is a gripping thrill ride that sees the students of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School working at top gear.

Lucy comes face to face with her long exiled brother Jason three months after the death of their mother in the London 7/7 attacks. She is initially overjoyed to see him back but her new boyfriend Ed thinks he is an imposter, after all Jason’s body was found in the woods a few days earlier. If it’s not her brother who has popped back into her life and been handed a key to the flat then who is it. An imposter, a ghost, a figment of Lucy’s fractured mind. Wood’s play is given an added layer of complexity by the double that Danaan McAleer pulls as brother and lover, switching between accents and physicality in the snap of a light, sometimes midway through a line.

McAleer has been a constant stand out this year, his physical presence given heft to the roles of Badger in Wind In The Willows and Prospero in The Tempest. Up close at the Alma Tavern he has changed his physicality from the sheer physical heft of the previous roles he has played to something younger, lighter and more volatile. The doubling of roles pushes his range in different directions and it is a high bar he easily vaults. A local actor who had been seen in a number of productions before he joined the school, he seems to be prospering with his training, next up covering the Lear of Timothy West. Poppy Pedder matches him toe to toe imbuing Lucy with a manic, wide-eyed stare that intermingles part hope, part grief and suggests a mind that may be spiralling out of control. The two bring a wonderful chemistry both as siblings and as partners.

This year’s MA directors seem to have really taken ownership of their theatrical visions and taken their productions in vastly different directions, Sarah Bradley’s took The Ugly One down a surreal and performance art aesthetic, Chloe Masterton’s Swallow, meanwhile, was happier giving the focus to the bruising  work of its three performers. Arni Kristjannson meanwhile combines a Tindersticks inspired sound score, a sharp lighting palette, simple but effective designs by Anna Orton and ratcheting up the  pitch of performances to make something containing only two performers suitably epic.

A bendy, twisty work about grief and identity, it’s an entertaining hour, which unfortunately drops the ball as it sees the try line.   A shame as it would have been a special score.

Runs until 14 May 2016  |  Image: Farrows Creative

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