How many lives can one person touch? If New Theatre’s production of The Laramie Project on the 4th May was anything to go by, the answer is countless. The real life tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s murder in 1998 was captured in sprit by The Laramie Project, showing how the legacy of murder can outlive the act itself.

Matthew Shepard was an average American, who was brutally murdered because he was gay. The play was an account of a theatre troupe’s expedition to Laramie – where Matthew lived and studied – to discover how a small town coped in the aftermath of such an event.

The play was composed of news reports, interviews, journal entries and encounters that the troupe had with the residents of Laramie, which gave it a factual edge that did not necessarily work in its favour. The beginning was slow and after meticulously setting up a back drop of American small town homophobia, religion, and justice, I was left wondering if there would be any time left for emotion, empathy and intimate character connections.

However, the slickness of the production meant that the overall characterisation did not fall short of the thorough contextualisation. Still, at three hours long, I whether being a little shorter would have improved the production, after all, the exam period can lead to unfortunately small attention spans. As such, it was particularly disappointing that the first interval occurred when the pace had just started to gain momentum.

Overall, the cast were charming. They showed ability to display complex emotions, often portraying guilt, pride, and fear all at once, without which the play could have fallen flat. Indeed, the multi-dimensionality of the characters was essential for understanding how the tragedy was dealt with throughout the town.

The actors expertly coped with the difficult task of playing multiple characters by distinguishing their characters with subtle variations in manner and accent. Individual kudos should go to: Andy Routledge, Sophia Stanley and Weston Twardowski who particularly stood out.

A memorial to Matthew Shepard, which was only just big enough to notice, was a clever touch to the otherwise flexible set, which served as a reminder of Matthew’s continuing influence upon the whole town. Lighting was also put to effective use throughout; notably it was used to give the impression of camera flashes, providing certain scenes with an invasive atmosphere. Equally successful was the use of music, especially the rendition of Amazing Grace which heightened the emotion without overwhelming the performance.

Shepard’s story contains many lessons still left to learn, making each retelling important. The show captured this essence, which made my night at new theatre thought provoking yet still entertaining: a commendable performance.

Shaun Reeve

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