A sombre, painful play about the real lives of falsely accused prisoners on death row. "The Exonerated" at the Hope Mill Theatre was an engaging and innovative piece of theatre, challenging the stereotypical limitations of theatre and pushing the boundaries of intertextuality and multi-modality in a theatrical space.
The traverse stage was guarded with prison wire, forcing a sense of inescapability on the audience and really establishing the frustrating tone of the piece. Its clinical lighting also established an uneasy atmosphere, enhancing the discomfort of death row for the prisoners. Personally, I have never been to Hope Mill Theatre, so the traverse stage choice may not have been a purposeful creative choice, however, this did not engage the audience in any way but ultimately formed a challenge for the actors attempting to share the action to both sides of the stage. Despite this, the minimalist set and costume were successful in creating an atmosphere of nothingness and desperation.
The antithesis of television and theatrical performance was jarring, forcing the audience into an uncomfortable position by constantly switching from one mode to the other. Although the combination of the television clips and the theatrical performance was rather engaging to a particularly visual young audience, this theme was translated to the audience as a gimmick, not really enhancing the plot nor character development but instead just creating a monotonous repetition back and forth between the screen and the stage. That being said, the whole concept of the Netflix documentary come to life was rather thrilling as an audience member, however this concept felt injudiciously executed, with moments on stage adding no real impact to the story- telling process. I understand the idea of following Netflix stylistically due to its practically universal appeal as everyone has Netflix at home, but I believe we come to theatre to experience something immediate, unrepeatable, and solely individual, and staring upwards at a screen became tedious and unfulfilling.
In a more positive light, all actors were strong in their portrayals of multiple roles from prisoners to police officers. A particular standout performance was Pippa Winslow as Sunny. The organic delivery of her lines ensured the message of the piece and the reality of life on death row resonated throughout the audience. Her honest and warm portrayal of Sunny was inimitably successful in getting the audience to emote. Winslow’s performance will be one I remember for possibly the rest of my life as it really touched me.
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I would recommend you to see ‘The Exonerated’ at Hope Mill Theatre to explore the innovative and dark nature of the piece.