It’s a sobering thought: on average one person dies every half a second and every hour and a quarter someone commits suicide. That means that, during the time it takes to watch Anaglogue’s Beachy Head, one tragic soul will have taken their own life.
The show itself looks at the impact of one such tragic incident. Two film-makers accidently record eight seconds of blurry footage of a man (Stephen) throwing himself of the cliffs at the notorious Beachy Head. As his widow, Amy, comes to terms with the aftermath, the film-makers face a moral dilemma: use her grief as the centre piece of the film or delete the footage. There’s further complication in the fact that Amy is unaware of the clip’s existance.
As the film makers explore the events, we learn more about Stephens’s life, the work of a pathologist who deals with many of Beachy Head’s victims, and the repercussions for those left behind.
Seen first as a work in progress in 2009, it is interesting to see how the piece has developed since then. It is certainly far more accomplished than that first showing; the fluidity of the staging is still impressive but the story does seem tighter and clearer. Some scenes stick strongly in the mind – Amy’s return home with Stephen’s belongings and seeing his image everywhere and Stephen’s final call to the Samaritans are powerfully evocative and moving. Other scenes, though, seem to have moved on less and there is still some work to do. At times the dialogue does seem strained and the moral conundrum faced by the film-makers never seems fully developed. The inevitable climax as Stephen takes his life is a challenging moment to stage and keep respectful and does seem somewhat lacking in tension.
The mix of live film and CGI works well with the constantly moving scenery and creates a memorable visual tableaux.
There are some nice performances here; Sarah Belcher maintains just the right amount of clinical detachment as the pathologist who has forced herself to see the bodies as just a broken machine. Katie Lightfoot also impresses as the grieving widow attempting to control her emotions while trying to understand why, and Dan Ford gives a sympathetic performance as the tormented Stephen who can only see one fateful way to escape his tortured mind.
Beachy Head is not easy viewing and doesn’t attempt to give any reason as to why people take their own lives. It doesn’t judge but provides plenty for the audience to think about, perhaps for many days after the performance.
Analogue show that they are an ambitious company, not afraid to tackle emotive subjects. It’s impressive to see a company pushing the boundaries of technical integration into live theatre and as long as the script isn’t overlooked in the process. They are certainly a company to keep an eye on in the future.