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Karen | The Other Palace Studio

Karen, written and performed by Sarah Cameron-West and directed by Evie Ayres-Townshend, is an emotional rollercoaster of a show. Following the aftermath of a horrendous break up (whilst eating a Calipso at Alton Towers on her 30th birthday, after four years together), we see the unnamed protagonist readjust her life through the gaze of unfiltered feminine rage. 

Upon discovering that her partner of four years, Joe, is having an affair with a fellow colleague, Karen, the protagonist spirals into the many routes of processing a break up. West is unafraid to portray the protagonist as hysterical or dramatic, choosing to remain authentic in a truthful post relationship scenario, with the character frequently "ugly crying". Between the breakup occurring in live time, and the scattered moments of emotional vulnerability where her pain is seen and felt, the underlying sense of sympathy binds her actions together. This is particularly evident in a well-written phone call to her mother. 

West has carefully avoided naming the protagonist, allowing her to become a universally relatable character. With painful accuracy, West captures the bumbling awkwardness that most of us face as we live life. From embarrassing ourselves on first dates, to accidentally sending angry messages to an ex, to trying to play it cool, there's a little bit of ourselves in the character.

The show flickers back and forth in terms of comedic style between sarcastic and intrusive commentary and clever and witty lines, but ultimately succeeds in both, making for a joyous and fun experience. When the protagonist switches between how she truly feels (quite devilish), and how she forces herself to be (angelic), this doubtlessly speaks to the audience, allowing the truth of society pressures to rise above the quick laughter.

The set design, sound design and lighting effects all become sensory aids into the precarious stability of her mind. With towers of stacked flimsy cardboard boxes labelled FRAGILE, and tangled wires dangling from within, the set feels a little claustrophobic and on the edge of toppling over, adding a nice touch to the show (Roisin Jenner).

Sound and light design (Sarah Spencer and Oliver McNally) create an impressive array of colourful stimuli that double into prompts to dive behind the protagonist's mask of politeness, especially based on her emotions. Between the quick switches of raging rock and roll red, and the calm fluorescent white, or the flashes of lightning and thunder, the audience are strapped in for the ride. 

Often breaking the fourth wall, West includes members of the audience, christening and conversing with them as ensemble characters in the show. Whilst it isn't necessarily audience participation as much as it is audience involvement, it does send a ripple of excitement that helps develop the audience's intimacy and protectiveness for the protagonist. 

Karen is a surprisingly profoundly deep and sensitive examination into human emotions. Ploughing through the emotions regardless of consequences, instead of tip toeing around it, is a fascinating and refreshing change and proves to be a risk worth taking. With a beautiful finale, Karen is a brilliant play that embraces all of humanity, the good the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. Karen will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Dylan Woodley


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