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Sleepless at Shoreditch Town Hall – Review

Analogue's SleeplessFatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a rare genetic disease which robs you entirely of sleep until you die and it is currently believed to affect under 40 families worldwide. Sleepless is an attempt to tell one of these family’s stories.

A pregnant Cosmia Trevisan (Balvinder Sopal) has just waved her archaeologist boyfriend off on a dig on the other side of the world when she receives a phone call; her mother, Francesca (Andrea Quirbach), has been found dead in her car in the North Sea. Sleepless tells the story of Cosmia’s, (with the help of Dr Graham) search for an answer as to why this awful tragedy occurred. The play also has the backdrop of the Mad Cow (CJD) crisis and includes footage from the Discovery Channel and of John Selwyn Gummer (Health Secretary at the time) speeches. There are also references to Damien Hurst’s cow skull in formaldehyde.

Hannah Barker and Liam Jarvis’s story telling is scientific, informative and thought provoking. Barker’s direction is rightly slow paced. Elena Pane’s sound track and Anike Sedello and Helen Mugridge’s design enhance the atmosphere of the production. The set is stark with characters frequently dressed head to foot in white shuffling across the set all of which comes across at times as haunting.

Balvinder Sopal is excellent as Cosmia, whose initial confusion as to her mother’s apparent suicide changes, with the help of Dr Graham (an equally excellent, Michael Cusick), to an acceptance of her own likely fate. For me the stand out performance came from Andrea Quirbach who manages to portray Francesca both young and old through cleverly thought out flashback scenes. With the rest of the cast providing good support as multiple characters.

For me Sleepless was totally different to many plays I have seen but it is a production which, for all the right reasons, will live long in the memory and is well worth seeing.

4 Stars

Review by Karen Pond

A woman lies awake. Pupils like pinpricks, skin saturated in sweat, the odd jerk of a muscle. She hasn’t slept for 3 months. She knows what is happening to her and there’s nothing she can do.

Francesca Trevisan’s body is discovered in her car in the North Sea. Her neighbours say she had been acting strangely. Her daughter and a doctor she has never met are left to discover what drove her to commit such an act. Set against the backdrop of an unfolding mad cow crisis, Cosima and Dr Graham go on a journey through history and a race against time to find the cause and cure of a rare disease before its commercial interest wanes.

Inspired by the extraordinary true story of a family cursed with a rare genetic disease that cruelly deprives members of sleep until they die, SLEEPLESS is a story that sits at the crossroads of two cutting edge areas of science: sleep research and prion theory, and begs the broader question: how do we decide the value of a human life?

SLEEPLESS is a new show from Analogue, one of the UK’s most exciting companies, who have developed a reputation for their visual performance style that combines powerful storytelling with rigorous scientific research.

Written by Hannah Barker and Liam Jarvis
Directed by Hannah Barker
Designed by Anike Sedello
Lighting Design by Jürgen Sippert
Sound Design by Elena Pena
Video Design by Christoph Schödel
Dramaturgy by Jörg Vorhaben
Cast: Michael Cusick, Jake Ferretti, Andrew Quirbach, Leoni Schulz, Balvinder Sopal

An Analogue and Staatstheater Mainz co-production
Commissioned by Shoreditch Town Hall
Supported by Arts Council England

Running Time: 90 min
Thu 1 September – Wed 14 September 2016, 7.30pm