North Wall Arts Centre, 10-12 May 2012
An exquisite journey of ‘life, death, and enduring love’ in mime and music, from multi-award-winning international ensemble Theatre Ad Infinitum.
“WHAT shall I do with this absurdity -
O heart, O troubled heart - this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail?”
W.B. Yeats’ poem, The Tower, is the inspiration for George Mann’s piece of mask and movement theatre about an elderly man who struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. As William (George Mann) withdraws into a world of fantasy intermingled with memories of the past, Rose (Deborah Pugh) returns to him from beyond the grave to help him let go. The transformation from youth to old age occurs through the use of handheld masks, which shift on and off as the shared life story of this couple is told.
There is nothing unique about the narrative: courtship, marriage, life events, the little insecurities and jealousies that typify any relationship all feature, underpinned by cycles and parallels: he helps her to overcome the loss of her child, she supports him to cast off memories of war. Temporary partings and sweet reunions pre-empt the final halving of a life shared.
The exquisiteness of the performance lies in its delivery. The significance of a bond created by seemingly simple domestic interactions - such as having tea - is only fully understood when a man sits alone at a table set for two.
The masks quite rightly deserved their own round of applause. That such solid, immovable forms can create such animation and convey such emotion is a testament to the skill of the actors. Particular mention must go to the accordion player and vocalist (and props master, mask-holder, whistler…), Kim Heron, for the versatility of her simultaneously mesmerising and totally unobtrusive performance. I have never heard accordion bellows used so effectively! Dance and movement were as integral to the performance as the mime and music. The choreography was beautiful and dynamic: wordless poetry, conveying the sheer joy of romantic love.
The story itself flits back and forth in time; for me, this was not a negative. In as much as the events are not in chronological order, neither are human memories: we delve into the past and events become kaleidoscopic; the human mind synthesizes what is important. This progressive distillation of memories through musical mime was complemented by the sparse set and careful use of props. Everyday objects – a teacup, a handkerchief, a string of pearls – assumed an intimacy, born of mutual possession, that rendered them heartbreakingly impossible to relinquish.
Mime and music seem to be the ‘genre du jour’, thanks to recent movies gone mainstream, such as The Artist. The USP of Theatre Ad Infinitum, it seems, is to create innovative theatre that speaks to a multi-cultural audience. And they will, literally, speak to a global community, as their 2012 tour extends to Brazil, Italy, Norway, Israel, Greece, Croatia and Ireland, as well as the UK.
‘That you may be moved, challenged and inspired by our work is our first priority’ says their website. Whilst this piece was set in a distinct cultural and geographical context (for example, songs such as We’ll Meet Again and It’s a long way to Tipperary might be lost on international audiences), the fundamental themes of life, death, love and loss do indeed transcend borders and work especially well in a wordless context. In a Smartphone world, watching the subtleties of non-verbal, non-electronic communication – a gesture, a smile, a turn of the head – left me hankering after a simpler existence. I was transfixed; I barely blinked.
Despite the sadness of the tale (bring tissues), the message from this evening was, to me, curiously life-affirming: live, love, savour each moment, without fear or regret - and do not miss the gem that is Translunar Paradise!