A combination of dance, song and poetry, Simon Stephens’ new creation will make heads spin and hearts ache.
While the writer might dislike the word, ‘experimental’ is an accurate description. This is a piece that pushed boundaries well before an audience even got near it, by privileging the always collaborative nature of theatre-making. Stephens affords remarkable liberty to those he works with: his script is a “series of suggestions” left deliberately open – just a dozen pages of text with no characters. Both his role as a playwright and the job of director/choreographer Imogen Knight are reappraised and opened up.
So what’s the result? The text’s main theme rings out: Nuclear War is a meditation on grief, movingly depicted. Maureen Beattie takes the lead, recounting a day like a contemporary Mrs Dalloway, but stricken by loss. Recollections of moments in hospital are the clearest and most effective. This is a woman out of her mind with mourning and loneliness.
The character Beattie so meticulously depicts is accompanied by performers Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Gerrome Miller, Beatrice Scirocchi and Andrew Sheridan. All four give committed performances but with the actions of the group they form, the evening becomes confusing. You could call this quartet a chorus, why not: revealing internal thoughts and adding a running commentary…of sorts. Mortality is linked to time, with snatches of Arthur Eddington’s ideas injected. And then come some puzzling props. Lasting only 45 minutes, Knight hasn’t allowed long enough to explore the depth of Stephens’ text.
If you’re grumpy, a sense this was all more fun to work on than to watch creeps in. However, aided by lighting guru Lee Curran, there’s some incredible imagery here. The chorus become dogs, and bizarre fetishists, before transforming into ghosts to say a goodbye to their grieving companion. It’s a peremptory departure, despite the resolution it offers, and I wished for more of these unforgettable moments from such an intrepid trial.
Until 6 May 2017
Photo by Chloe Lamford