Review by Sarah Bradley
55 min | Clown, Comedy, Drama, Mime | G
What a heartening, unconventional play! With a taut storyline and perhaps the most amiable old gentleman ever as its sole character, Vernus Says Surprise thoroughly captivated me.
It seems that word has spread about this highly original mime piece, as the theatre was packed well before doors opened. The set was sparse, with just one wooden chair as a prop. Six red and blue stage lights shifted subtly to reflect the mood. A clock ticked throughout the first scene which I found to be an interesting detail – it was almost as if the sound of time passing acted as a soundtrack.
While the premise is simple, the finely-tuned interactions between sound and movementwere complex. One could almost fail to notice that Vernus never uttered a word (except in the final moment) because of the extraordinary breadth of expression he showed using facial and body language. The impeccable timing between the soundtrack of banal (yet entertaining) everyday noises Vernus encountered and his every minute movement blew me away. The actor never missed a beat.
One of the strongest points was the scene in which Vernus reacted to the dual bombardments of a ringing telephone and a chiming doorbell. It was hilarious to watch him run from one to other, always responding to the wrong sound cue, and eventually throwing his hands up in surrender. This scene captured the difficulty of focussing on one task when there is a constant stream of interruptions. Another particularly well-crafted scene was on the bus, when Vernus struggled to simultaneously pay his fare, stay behind the yellow line and avoid tumbling over as the bus twisted and turned. Something I admired about Vernus was that he never showed anger or frustration, only pressed on until he achieved his goal. It was clear that the audience members could relate to his struggles to navigate the city as there was lots of sympathetic laughter each time he committed a gaffe.
The beautiful simplicity of the storyline provokes reflection on the nature of our everyday interactions, the way we communicate and how isolating our world can be, despite the near-constant buzz of noises that surrounds us. The occasions when the sounds of various electronic devices and human voices built up to a nonsensical cacophony brought us right into Vernus’ world, and allowed us to understand that what should be simple has been complicated by what we think of as technology and innovation. The result is that we rejoice at the end when he finds an ingenious way around the obstacles on his path.
Vernus Says Surprise is playing at Venue 4 – Studio Léonard-Beaulne on Wednesday June 20 at 10:00 pm, Friday June 22 at 10:00 pm; Saturday June 23 at 5:00 pm; and Sunday June 24 at 1:30 pm.