HOW STAR WARS SAVED MY LIFE
Some Assembly Theatre Company, Performance Works, Until December 10th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Robert Blackburn
I feel 'How Star Wars Saved My Life' by Nicholas Harrison and produced by Some Assembly Co. needs to be talked about in two distinct areas to be reviewed effectively.
The first is it's subject matter. Harrison is our sole performer and he talks about his life... he builds up to one harrowing detail after the next. Harrison bears his life's secrets to an audience of strangers and recounts each appalling and horrific moment of physical, sexual and mental abuse he had to suffer as a small child at the hands of evil, torturous priests. He says they even threatened him with God's wrath should he tell his parents or anyone else. That he would actually be killed by God! It is truly disgusting and sickening.
Then within these shocking moments, a narrative is told how he fell in love with Star Wars and how the teachings of Yoda and Obi-Wan to Luke helped guide his own life and turn away from the darkness that had perpetuated within him because of the abuse. The feelings that it was somehow his fault, the fear of him admitting it and bad things happening to his parents, the aggression he wanted to retaliate with were all inside him but Star Wars and more acutely a developed passion for martial arts held these feelings at bay and allowed him to face them and eventually talk about them. Trips to the therapist reinforced this and continue to help, Harrison told us. He was honest and open and it was his truth. No one can judge him for a dime on that, it must take nerves of steel and a whole reservoir of courage to keep on telling this story.
But therein lies the problem and brings me to my critique of the show under a second dimension. I can't review someone's actual truth. Who am I to judge what has befallen him in life? I could question whether it warranted a performance piece but the subject matter is so personal, so important at this time in society that it ultimately does. But the question is- a theatrical one? That's where it doesn't come together for me. With Harrison as the storyteller it doesn't justify living in the space of a theatrical engagement.
One where an actor would take on the life of Harrison; portray him earnestly and honestly- that might take the show to new heights. With an actor in the role, the audience wouldn't be acutely aware that we were listening to an actual survivor. This I think would, unexpectedly, add gravitas and atmosphere to the proceedings. People may balk at that suggestion, saying I'm shying away from a profound topic but I'm suggesting it because with Harrison as the teller that's all it is. It's a talk and it's not a play. And for me it's plays that have the ability to transform the realms of possibility, not a well dressed TedTalk.
Ironically enough the two best moments of it are when Harrison pretended to be his mom discovering welts on him from a teacher and his dad talking to him as he drove him to a pre-trial hearing as an adult. They were both truly touching and as Harrison is a trained actor I expected more of these moments littered through the ninety minute 'talk' but sadly they were very limited.
Nicholas Harrison is clearly an exceptional human being who lived through hell and came out the other side with, from what I saw tonight, wisdom and hope. I feel his show would do better in its current form touring schools, colleges and spreading his hopeful message that way.
By Lillian Jasper
It is no wonder Star Wars appealed to the young Nicholas Harrison. The religious tenets found within the way of the Jedi are holier and more honourable than anything the Catholic religion provided him. In his one-man show (not accounting for his surprise “special guest”), Harrison recounts the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of various priests and teachers while at Catholic school.
Technically, the show is a marvel, slick and polished. John Webber’s set design is ingenious in its simplicity and utility. Ken Lawson’s music evokes the familiar film score without being derivative. An imposing Death Star looms over the stage for much of the proceedings, with other projections interspersed to enhance the story. Childhood photos of Harrison serve to reinforce the despicable nature of the crimes he endured. Silly voices and action figures are used to humorous effect while reminding us of the innocence that was so cruelly snatched away from this young boy. Star Wars nerds will appreciate the parallels and references, lines and costumes and moves straight out of the films.
Harrison has an imposing presence, but he takes up the space in a gentle, non-confrontational way. His tone is confessional, friendly, intimate. Despite the horrors he recounts, he knows how to put us at ease. It’s incredibly valuable to see a man of his physical stature talk so openly about vulnerability and feelings of shame related to sexual abuse. The play is full of moving moments, however the joy of childhood discovery - when Harrison catches a glimpse of A New Hope for the first time - is one of the most cathartic and poignant.
My Hope is that this show will tour schools (something the producers mentioned as a possibility) so that children being abused might feel encouraged to speak out. Despite its theatricality, it didn’t always feel like theatre. What is definitely was, more importantly, was a safe space in which an audience came together to witness a survivor’s story, told with creativity and brutal honesty. In these times, the more stories like this that we hear, the better.