By Rhiannon Humphreys
★ ★ ★
The Story is a psychological thriller by young Welsh playwright Tess Berry-Head, inspired by her time doing humanitarian work with refugees from Assad’s jails and Libyan prisons. It has a two-person live cast – X (played by Siwan Morris, known for her role as Angie in Skins) and V (played by Hannah McPake) – but also uses four screens to project storytelling segments by Luciana Trapman. In Delyth Evans’ stage design, the audience is crammed closely together and surrounds the action, which forces them to be involved in the action on stage, rather than distanced from it.
The play starts with X, a volunteer who has been working at a refugee camp, trying to go through border control so she can return home to her wife and children, only to discover that her application has been rejected and she has been deemed an “enemy of the people” by the state. Things go rapidly downhill from this point, as she is incarcerated for an undetermined amount of time while her case is re-evaluated by various authorities. However, unnervingly for X, not only does she feel like she recognises her border control guard (V, Hannah McPake) from somewhere, as if their face was buried in a suppressed memory, but every person who comes to see her subsequently to be the same. Their profession, presentation and accent may change, but X is convinced that it is the same individual. She becomes sure that this is a method being used by the state to disturb her and psychologically manipulate her into confessing to crimes that she did not commit, as they believe she has been involved in action which threatens the state and “the people”.. V takes on various roles – lawyer, doctor, interrogator – and switches from “good cop” to “bad cop”, essentially gaslighting X, in order to get information out of her. As only two actors are used, the audience is never sure whether the roles played by V are all the same person, or whether this is a figment of X’s imagination as she slowly loses her mind while imprisoned.
V, in her various roles, is breathtakingly manipulative. Yet, her dialogue with X is peppered with comedic moments, especially during the first half, and while this can be effective in heightening the disturbing nature of the rest of the play, it felt like it was used to often and proved off-beat and distracting. Luciana Trapman’s framing of the narrative sets us up to question what makes a story and what constitutes as truth, both ideas that we, the audience, are prompted to consider throughout as we experience the same confusion that X does, but occasionally her interjections felt at odds with what was happening on stage. Despite the play’s topical nature, the intriguing identity confusion and the general building of dramatic tension, the play has a weak ending which is neither conclusive nor actually communicates the intention of the play. After it had finished, the previous 80 minutes felt almost pointless as the audience was left with no real idea of what it was trying to say. Initially powerful and intriguing, but ultimately disappointing.