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Review: Schism, at Park Theatre

Playwright Athena Stevens puts the challenges of disability under the spotlight with a powerful performance in story of an emotional power struggle

24 May, 2018 — By Catherine Usher

Jonathan McGuinness and Athena Stevens in Schism. Photos: Stephen Cummiskey

SCHISM is an unusual play in that it thrusts the audience into experiencing the lives of two people who they might otherwise never encounter.

Playwright Athena Stevens also stars in the two-hander and demonstrates the gallows humour of someone who has had to navigate in real life the obstacles, both physical and metaphorical, that her character, Katherine, deals with.

As an actress with cerebral palsy, Stevens provides a practical demonstration of the challenges faced by Katherine, who has a disability. She is undeniably brave in allowing the audience to see her in such vulnerable situations, such as when Harrison (Jonathan McGuiness) helps her to dress.

Stevens powerfully projects Katherine’s determination to be treated fairly and without pity and the way she injects some comedy into otherwise uncomfortable situations is played out wonderfully. And McGuiness’s Harrison shows his bullish, sometimes brutal treatment of Katherine often perversely pleases her – his harshness illustrates that there’s no way he intends to patronise her with kindness.

Architecture makes for an interesting backdrop to proceedings, but ultimately Schism all about the evolving relationship between Katherine and Harrison and the emotional power struggle between them.

Their close relationship is not without its controversy, given that she’s a 14-year-old student at the start of the play and he’s in his early 30s and is a teacher at her school.

Stevens ought to be very satisfied that she’s put the challenges of her disability under the spotlight, but that ultimately the star of the show is Katherine’s personality – her sense of purpose, perseverance and positivity.

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