The Various Methods of Escape | Mon Sans Productions with Actors Anonymous

There is a particular type of public fascination with kidnapping cases, perhaps because of great sympathy for the families and children who suffer the cruel crime or out of morbid relief that your family was lucky. One especially famous case that garnered a lot of attention was that of Jaycee Lee Dugard who was found in 2009 after being held captive for 18 years or the fictional account of Jack and his mother in Room by Emma Donoghue, based on the real experiences of Elizabeth Fritzl, found in 2008 after being held by her father for 24 years. At the heart of these media frenzies or the fictionalised stories seems to be a need to understand; how could this happen? Who would do something so awful?

The Various Methods of Escape by Amber Spooner, rather than imagining the specifics of what went on behind the kidnapper’s closed doors, begins after the discovery and rescue of Grace (Lucy Hadfield) who was held captive for 13 years from age 6 to 18 and has now been returned to her family. The situation is understandably awkward and difficult to navigate with Grace struggling to communicate with the strangers called her family, her parents (Chris Miller and Meagan Caratti) trying to juggle relief and deep anger, and her younger sister Hope (Rosie Meader) attempting to reconcile the fantasy of her kidnapped sister with the reality. Above everything hovers the presence of Gregory (Christopher Strickland), the man who kidnapped Grace and raised her so that his voice haunts her thoughts, preventing her from psychologically escaping from his control.

Spooner’s approach to Grace’s story and the fascinating complexity of people’s lives after great trauma was novel and unique however, perhaps due to this being Spooner’s first play, there were frequent inconsistencies in character, inexplicable plot holes, and often simplistic representation of mental illness and C-PTSD that detracted greatly from the story. The most egregious inconsistency was the characterisation of Grace herself where, at times, she was portrayed as nearly alien in her ignorance of simple human experiences like emotions and how to play with dolls but then she was also positioned as a wise, omniscient healer with astute observations of her family’s feelings and a strong desire to help them recover from her own kidnapping. The rapid oscillation between Grace’s two states was exacerbated by the structuring of the script which placed Grace in nearly every single one of the short, vignette scenes which allowed little opportunity to explore the family as individual characters without the need for Grace to antagonise or comfort them alternatingly. It seemed Grace was simply under too much pressure as a device within the script which meant her characterisation and the narrative of the other characters suffered under the weight.

Director Liviu Monsted’s handling of Spooner’s script was generous with a fervent attention to the heightened emotions and raised stakes of the story. This translated into frequent yelling and a desperate, scrambling quality to the physicality which was understandable but could have had more impact if juxtaposed with more restrained displays of anger, grief, and fear. This was perhaps why Strickland’s performance as Gregory was so unsettling as he lingered unassumingly side-stage muttering or in his rambling final scene where the audience was offered a glimpse into his psyche. The lighting design by Mehran Moretzee emphasised the briefness of each scene with dramatic cuts to darkness but otherwise the production design was simple in its focus on the characters and the psychological construction of “home”.

The performances matched the intensity of the script and the direction in their emotionality, which was convincing if sometimes one-noted. Caratti’s performance as Grace and Hope’s mother was compelling despite how few opportunities she was afforded to explore her character whereas Meader was enchanting as the young, spunky Hope. Her loose and easy physicality was particularly convincing and added a sense of genuine youth and naivety to the troubling storyline.

Like for Grace’s father, becoming the victim of unimaginable human cruelty can dramatically shift your understanding of the world. Spooner’s script explores the complex, often irreconcilable aftermath of a family broken apart and reunited by trauma. With more development, a more nuanced understanding of trauma, and perhaps a broader spectrum of voices prioritised in the story, the Various Methods of Escape could stand on its own amongst other media representing this particular type of horror.

The Various Methods of Escape ran at the Actors Pulse from June 28th – July 2nd

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