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DYSPLA Festival: Monsters, Mavericks, Mothers
Camden People's Theatre
12th November 2013


There is a wonderfully laid back atmosphere to the DYSPLA Festival. You're encouraged to explore at your own pace, with the main space being home to short films running back-to-back on a continuous loop, including one which helps explain the background to DYSPLA. They're all interesting, some more artsy than others but, ultimately, filler for something better.

The highlight is undoubtedly the Whispering Theatre in the basement. A maze has been constructed out of white partitions, with mesh panels. This allows the footage beamed into the maze to be visible through its walls, for the lights to bounce off and create a very vivid and ever-changing backdrop. As you wander through the maze, actors Rustyna Edwards, Nathan Thompson, Alexis Coward and Rachel Waring are tucked away. All are silent, motionless until you get close enough, then they spring to life, launching into monologues which rapidly turn from mundane into frenzied and compelling.

Depending on how many people are walking around the maze, and how closely they are clumped together, all actors may be delivering their lines simultaneously, you may be watching a performance from part of a group or as a one-to-one show. It's all rather intense, there's an explosion of light, colour and sound - it's a brilliant cacophony that stimulates the senses.

Setting the immersive performance in a maze creates a sense of whimsy and playfulness, which really adds to the sense of celebration - DYSPLA doesn't bemoan the challenges of dyslexia, rather it provides a platform for dyslexic theatre-makers to showcase their work and be proud of it.

But as well as unstructured play time, there's a more traditional piece of theatre, Y&P. Based on an idea by Greg Ward and developed by DYSPLA, it is a 50-minute two-hander based on journalist Yvonne Ridley's capture by the Taliban in 2001 and subsequent conversion to Islam. The two perpendicular walls used for the earlier video footage are again covered in imagery, with director bielecki&bielecka looping images that amplify the ideas played out live in front of us.

Y (Louise Morell) is the female journalist, caught after falling off a donkey (yes, really), P (Derek Horsham) is her captor. A third actor, an audience member, is enlisted as one of P's loyal "soldiers", bringing Y food and water on P's instruction. The immersive nature of Whispering Theatre is to be applauded, but here, I'm not sure what it adds. It breaks down barriers for one individual, but the rest of the audience remain distant.

Morrell and Horsham take it in turns to narrate, which sometimes disengages us from the story. The pacing isn't even throughout, the action does lag in the middle, so breaking the link with the audience isn't helpful. Most of the narration could be easily cut, but the blend of prerecorded video - including interviews with Ridley - with the live action is however a clever technique.

DYSPLA claim that dyslexics make better theatre than anyone else - I wouldn't go that far, but they can certainly hold their own if this year's festival is anything to go by.

DYSPLA Festival opened on 11th November and runs until 17th November 2013 at the Camden People's Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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