Culture Fringe Theatre Theatre

52 Souls — Review

Venue: Insanity Point – The White Room (Online)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

52 Souls is an innovative digital theatre production that explores the human relationship with death and mortality. Using a randomly shuffled pack of cards, Chronic Insanity creates a show which effectively highlights the multifaceted reactions to death as an inevitable element of human experience.

The format is simple. Fifty-two different pre-directed five to ten-minute scenes are linked to a standard pack of cards, each scene acted out when a card is picked. An impressive feat of memory, it is with just one slick click of the fingers that the online audience is plunged into watching a completely different character. These monologues are all performed by Co-Artistic Director of Chronic Insanity, Joe Strickland, who, with well-rehearsed ease, embodies a diverse range of characters. From an American trophy hunter defending his slaughterous hobby to a children’s TV presenter cheerfully delivering an ill-fated alphabetic rendition of all the different forms of execution, Strickland bounces delicately between each scene.

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The fast pace of the show is complemented by the variety of forms utilised. For instance, the seven of spades leads into an eerie poetic piece on death which is littered with a medley of unexpected cultural references, from Sponge Bob to Silence of the Lambs. The sombre poetic tone is immediately juxtaposed by the reveal of the 2 of clubs, which prompts a darkly humorous riddle about dinosaur homicide, performed using children’s puppets. Whilst not every sketch hits as perfectly, they are each short enough that this doesn’t affect the overall flow of the performance.

Crucially, 52 Souls demonstrates what can be achieved via digital theatre when it is treated as a unique form, where technology can actively influence the setting of the performance. To achieve this, Chronic Insanity uses multiple different camera angles, which adds significant depth to the scenes in such a way that could not be captured on stage. Alone in a slightly creepy looking white basement, armed with only an egg timer and a random distribution of other props, the cameras capture Strickland’s performances in rare isolation, which makes them all the more compelling.

The ending of the performance was starkly fitting with its overarching theme. After turning over the Ace of Spades, instead of launching into another monologue, it was instead revealed that we were out of time, and that, “that happens sometimes”. As the Chronic Insanity logo filled the darkened screen, this parting chillingly captures the finality of the themes explored.

Viewed Aug 19

Photo credit: Chronic Insanity