From the moment the audience enters the theatre and crosses the stage past the shadowed figure of ‘Octopus 1’ clinging to the wall, it is clear that GRACE is something special.
The octopus, played by a charismatic cast member, guides the audience through Grace’s world, from her troubles at school, to her relationship with her mother, and her attempts to create order from what is happening to and around her.
The intimacy of the theatre engenders a connection to Grace’s environmental and emotional anguish, offering a shared experience that is hilarious and disturbing in equal measure.
Using humour to portray the innocence and naivety of childhood, GRACE at once draws out a protective response from the audience along with delighted laughter and recognition of her rivalries and schoolyard controversies. This childish world-view is enhanced by the wonderful and random antics of the octopus that has taken up residence in Grace’s home.
Before long, however, it becomes clear that there is more to Grace’s problems than schoolyard bullying.
Seamlessly facilitated by lighting and music, one octopus becomes three. With the arrival of each new cast member on stage the script resets, starting again with the same dialogue and action. The added intensity and subtle variations between each octopus explores a new facet of the protagonist’s narrative.
Through this layering of character and dialogue, the cast work to draw the audience ever down into the heart of Grace’s world where laughter gives way to, but never buckles beneath, a growing uneasiness. It is this clever and creative exploration of the issues of mental health and the fall out from trauma and loss that gives GRACE its power.
The performers work skilfully with the interplay of comic and tragic, past and present to push beyond show’s light-hearted facade in a remarkably nuanced and touching portrayal of a subject matter that is anything but humorous. And so, the audience - although discomfited by their earlier delight in the antics of ‘Octopus 1’ - is left with the understanding that laughter and sadness can, and perhaps should, cohabit the same space.
The performances in GRACE are outstanding, with Grace and ‘Octopus 1’ particular standouts. Together, the four cast members close the gap between stage and audience to create a hilarious, poignant, and ultimately emotive experience.
Tickets available from the FRINGE WORLD website.