Somnia: a suffix indicating a condition of, or like, sleep. To victims of bullying, is sleep an escape or just the precursor of another day of abuse? When the “big sleep” finally comes, why are we always surprised? In Somnia, enter a world of unseen trauma – death by a thousand cuts.
Through brief glimpses into the lives of two teenage students, Trash Theatre’s Somnia examines first-hand the experience of being bullied, along with the long-term mental afflictions carried by victims. The young cast give a solid performance (presumably due to a topic that’s close to the heart), and though it does little to break new ground content-wise there’s plenty of creativity elsewhere – portrayals of schizophrenia as a menacing phantom and due care taken with staging and design sufficiently keep the experience fresh and interesting (abuse being compared to dancing is a high point). Music is used to good effect, but it did sometimes drown out speech (a minor gripe).
While delivered with passion and appearing well practiced, the writing can at times sink into the mire of overwrought teen angst at the expense of depth. The script does well in covering more than just one type of abuse – schoolyards, bad friends and parental abuse are all explored in detail – but it’s a little disappointing that no time is spent looking deeper into societal root causes; brief remarks are made to the effect of “everyone is a bully/everyone is also bullied” but nothing more is said on the matter. It is troubling also that the only argument presented between a tormentor and the tormented quickly degenerates into calls of “You’re gay!”, then “No, YOU’RE gay” and treated as a victory, rather than looking into how this kind of exchange is damaging on a greater scale.
It’s well honed, but at a scant 30 minutes, it’s a hard sell for what is ultimately a slightly grittier version of a high-school public service announcement. While perhaps holding meaning for those currently affected by bullying (either directly, or bearing the scars), a general lack of depth keeps it from excelling.
Reviewed by Jason Lomas
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the performance on May 11.