Review: The Unconquered, Arthur Cotterell Studio (International Youth Arts Festival, Kingston)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

The International Youth Arts Festival, (IYA Festival), self proclaims itself to be ‘One of the largest and most diverse youth arts events in the world.’ But most crucially brought to audiences by charity Creative Youth, it offers a platform for emerging artists under the age of 27 to try out their work and has been doing so annually for 10 years. Now that is something we can get behind! Especially because it has no limiting factors on what the work can be, with around 200 events spread over two weeks, the festival is a rainbow of variety hosting theatre, dance, comedy, music, visual arts, spoken word, carnival and circus presentations.

For two evenings actor and comedian John Bond presented his very own 60-minute, one man piece entitled The Unconquered. Bond is established in his own right, already having performed at various comedy venues across London solo, as well as with his comedy trio Bad Clowns, who have featured at both Brighton Fringe and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Unconquered is however Bond’s theatrical debut of this sort, with him having written, directed, designed and then ultimately gone on to perform this piece singlehandedly. The work is a look into the psyche of fictional famed explorer and gentleman Alexander Francis. Though on the surface it appears to be simply an explorer recounting his expedition deep in the heart of the jungle, battling the elements in search of a lost city within an unmapped region, the piece soon becomes an exploration of how trauma and extreme conditions can mentally affect.

For a first showing, The Unconquered was vastly dexterous, with John Bond proving to be an excellent storyteller and theatre-maker. Though his plot and dialogue do need a little work in order to promote more clarity and help sustain a certain flow, the premise and execution were however admirable. The utilisation of sound effects for underscoring and imaginative lighting notions helped both polish the performance and realistically created the jungle atmosphere, whilst facilitating the exploration into the internalised distress of Alexander Francis, exemplifying the peril. Bond cleverly juxtaposes insolvency with wit to convey a decent into madness. He challenges his audience to discover what is fact or fiction, we the audience whom he addresses, are we but a vision to him? His companion Henry, who we never see as it is revealed he perished some time before, is previously addressed as if still alive, suggesting Henry too becomes a vision, a side effect from his death being the beginning of Francis’ trauma. Alexander Francis ultimately dies at the hands of a tribe who ‘eat the flesh of their dead’, or does he? Bond’s suggestion that Francis is clouded by madness makes us question as to whether he alternatively dies of exhaustion and hunger or even a disease, due to his lack of supplies, though in his mind it is something/someone coming after him. Putting the work much in the vein of films such as Into The Wild, where the protagonist dies due to Lathyrism, a neurological disease caused by the consumption of lathryus seeds, he too is forsaken by the wild.

Therefore The Unconquered is a simple, well thought out monologue with some interesting ideas behind it. Bond is certainly a name to look out for. His aforementioned comedy trio will be performing at Edinburgh Festival Fringe again this year with a comedy show titled Hostage, but before that catch them this week at IYA Festival as they preview their show. For Kingston dates click here. For Edinburgh click here.

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