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Nicholas Dave Amott in Awoken. Photo: Lorraine Payette

Nicholas Dave Amott in Awoken
Photo: Lorraine Payette

Awoken created and performed by Nicholas Dave Amott

A monologue  which becomes a sleepless delirium, bringing together  sounds of familiar voices, a nightmarish confusion between illusion and  reality, and a clear sense of a character performing himself in front of an audience, opened last night at the Gladstone Theatre for a 5 day run.

This very talented young man with a beautiful voice, enormous stage presence and an excellent sense of theatre, plays out his delusional world of the insomniac as it shifts back and forth from his contacts with the doctor, his conversations with his mother, his need to express himself through music, and his flights of confused fantasy into the world of popular culture where batman, ironman and many more appear and disappear. He is suffering from an incurable form of sleeplessness and there is nothing anyone can do for him. He uses points of light created by lamps not only to transform his face into multiple theatrical masks but also to bring the audience into his semi-hypnotical state of dizziness and exhaustion as he winds down to the inevitable ending.

The interesting thing is that the “self” of the insomniac  becomes a real state of being on stage but the actor takes over from time to time as he consciously creates a performance of sleeplessness, adjusting the lights, playing directly to the audience and doing all he can to keep the attention of the public. Here is where his performance falters and here is where a director might have made a difference.

According to the program, Amott has worked with Daniel McIvor and this great Canadian artist once created a work called Insomnia which I saw in Montreal at one point in its process. Here is what was written about the play in the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia:

Insomnia is “clean-lined and lucid, […] Through a lens of hazy reality, the man dissects his withering marriage, his friendships and the society of greed surrounding him. Reality and a state of insomniac illusion are mingled. The core of the work is a very long monologue where the central figure sets forward a series of protocols to live by[…] It concludes with a harrowing sequence inspired by Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Not a fun night of theatre, but a bracing one”.

Obviously, Amott is not trying to imitate McIvor which would be silly to even suggest but Amott seems to have fallen into a trap that has influenced so many young writers and performers these days whose imaginations are consumed and distorted by TV and pop culture. Clearly McIvor has moved away from that, especially by referring to Shakespeare’s  Titus Andronicus and his own references to Seneca’s most cruel play.   The performance side of Amott’s  work tells says that in order to attract a younger audience he must find references the audience easily recognize whereas the artistic and creative side of his imagination has been swamped by the staging of these comic book heroes as flights of imagination, only because they appear to be the only solution that the audience would recognize. Is that underestimating the audience? Isn’t that the easy way out? It seems to me that the most talented contemporary artists make a serious effort to find original images, new visions and new verbal combinations that take them far  beyond  the world of TV images. From that point of view, McIvor is an excellent model.

One feels that Amott has not made the effort to reveal his great talent and the result is an excellent fringe show but a show that has gone no further as a work of stage art .  The author /actor/ director has not tried to go beyond a banal pop culture world to capture  the expression of a deeply troubling world that  haunts his young sleepless hero. All the elements of  a great show were there but the community of super heroes  was its downfall. Still, Awoken is worth the evening because Amott is an extremely talented performer.

Awoken plays at the Gladstone until September 16. A production of Theatre Kraken.