Manchester Theatre Awards

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Mina (PUSH Festival)

Nataly Lebouleux
Nataly Lebouleux
HOME, Manchester
23 January 2017 to 25 January 2017

Getting to the theatre for Mina is a disorienting experience; the audience is guided down darkened corridors into a shady Studio size space constructed behind (or perhaps inside) HOME’s Theatre 1. But then a sense of things not being quite right is entirely appropriate as Nataly Lebouleux (who conceived Mina, which is still in development) sets out to create the mood of a waking nightmare.

The subject matter of the play is so extreme that it is hard to believe it is based upon fact. Conversion Therapy is a process employed to ‘cure’ same-sex attraction and enforce gender conformity. The techniques sound very like brainwashing including a bizarre concept referred to as ‘religious exorcism.’ Mina is a survivor of such therapy and the play shows her, as performed by Gwen Osmond, undergoing the process as a child and, in the present day, trying to come to terms with what she has become.

Mina merges live and filmed performance. Scenes from Lebouleux’s film Paper Thin are not so much re-imagined as recycled, projected onto boxes stacked at the front of the stage. The filmed extracts show Mina undergoing the therapy while Osmond’s silent mimed performance illustrates the psychological consequences. The film is stop-motion, featuring rudimentary dolls and puppets constructed from clay. It reflects both the innocence of the young Mina and the primitive crudity of the techniques to which she is subjected.

The stage set is brutally barren, with Mina gradually emerging from hiding, or being concealed, in a glass box where she remains for most of the play, trying to piece together the shreds of her life. Illuminated boxes are dotted around the stage with disturbing sound effects – the whirl of hospital machinery and the ping of pinball machines - a constant presence. 

Mina after the treatment is depicted as a blank presence. Wearing an unresponsive white face mask and dark leotard she is defined by what is absent – her sexuality- rather than her physical presence.  There is hope in her final gesture- leaving her costume behind and exiting the stage- that Mina has succeeded in defying the conditioning she has endured but, like much of the play, this is ambiguous.

Mina is a fascinating experiment in merging theatre with film. However, like much performance art, pacing is an issue. This is a play in which events unfold with such punishing slowness that maintaining concentration becomes a challenge. The subsequent difficulty in forming an emotional connection with the title character makes it hard for the play to generate the outrage, which should be experienced after witnessing Conversion Therapy in action

Details of Mina and other plays in the PUSH festival are available at http://homemcr.org/event/push-festival-2017

Reviewer: David Cunningham