Sanctuary, Tristan Bates Theatre – Review

There must be something in the zeitgeist, as this year I have seen three plays that have dealt with women in Kafkaesque scenarios – incarcarated and with no knowledge of why they’re confined. As awareness of women’s rights and their erosion are receiving greater attention, many are feeling the brunt of speaking out and the pigeonholes that society place them in…

Sanctuary-DACOjygXoAALoiDWritten and directed by Anthony Orme, Sanctuary is set in the near future – a ‘welcome’ quiet period following a recent war. When Kari (Elizabeth Robin) wakes, she’s alarmed to find tubes attached to different parts of her body. Unable to comprehend the situation, Kari is immediately suspicious and angry at her lot. Her only ‘companion’ and source of information is S.A.M. (Catalina Blackman) – a reactive, sentient Artificial Intelligence that speaks through a television – and one of the few things that’s present in the room.

Much like GERTY in Duncan Jones’ Moon, S.A.M. at one level ‘looks out’ for the well-being of her sole charge, but on the other hand her prime directive is to monitor and report what she finds to her superiors. In both cases, the amount of information the A.I.s are allowed to pass on to the people they’re monitoring is circumvented by their programming…

Although Sanctuary is set in 2040, there is little in the play that necessitates it being set in the future. While there is still a reticence nowadays for women in large numbers to be allowed to fight on the frontline, it does occur and Kari’s predicament as someone who witnesses firsthand the theatre of war would be even more compelling in a contemporary setting.

On the surface, Sanctuary is all about finding out the details of Kari’s past and how they relate to her present situation. However, from an emotional standpoint, what really drives the play is the rapport that Kari shares with S.A.M. and another important female relaltionship that’s disclosed later. Far from being devoid of sensitivity, S.A.M. is more like an acquaintnance who wants to help, but sworn to secrecy on certain matters. Of course, it may be that Kari isn’t ready to be told the truth outright and S.A.M. is waiting for the inevitable meltdown when the memories return…

Sanctuary distinguishes itself as a play that places importance on self-determination and female relationships, both on and off-stage. Certainly compared to other Kafkaesque plays of late, Sanctuary also adheres to the maxim that the ‘truth may set you free, but it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness’ – only clarity. Also, as wartime tales go, it’s refreshing to see a story constructed around women being participants on the battlefield, rather than as the direct victims of war which is so often the case. Still, life isn’t necessarily a bed of roses for Kari either and with her mental health in question, there are ever-increasing similarities between herself and Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck

© Michael Davis 2017


Sanctuary runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 19th August (9.15pm).

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