|"A real clarity of condition"|
by Patrick Cash for remotegoat on 09/02/12
Hailing from Edinburgh Festival '11 with rave reviews in its wave I entered Translunar Paradise with a determinedly open mind but, at its end, could only concord that those accolades were entirely deserved. A tale told without words, incorporating hypnotic mask work and emotively seductive live music, the deceptively simple show dealt with its themes of love, loss and age in disarming potency. Performed in the Bristol Old Vic's studio auditorium, the space complemented the production's sense of intimacy excellently, enticing the audience into a beautiful and poignant world.
Using just two actors - George Mann (also writer-director of the show) and Deborah Pugh - the story crossed generations in an exploration of an old man losing his wife paralleled against a touching delve into their memories as young lovers first meeting. What sounds like a potentially gimmicky conceit, when the two leads were old they wore masks and when young they removed them, worked with breathtaking accuracy upon the stage. Both actors embodied their roles excellently, imbuing their physical work with the spirit and somatic strength required in order to make masks theatrically live.
Sharing the stage with the two gently metamorphosing characters was Kim Heron, who providing some stage hand abilities but more importantly sound-tracked the performance with a deftly played accordion, an inspired choice of instrument given its ability to intuit notes of raw feeling. Mann displayed an elegant talent in structuring the dramaturgy and music in such a manner so that particular selections of notes combined with select stage images to sharply tug at the heartstrings, yet still without patronising his audience.
Props aside from the masks were kept to a minimum and, when used, neatly woven into the action, continuing the storyline and written out again before becoming a distraction. Use of domestic objects such as cups to illustrate deeper concepts were especially effective. A wooden hospital bed was powerful in its stark plainness.
It is not often that one notices the majority of audience members surrounding one's seat wiping away tears towards the end of a performance. In Translunar Paradise this reaction was merited, for the production managed to achieve a rare height of truth. We perhaps live in a culture saturated with cynical attempts to draw on our emotions from fleeting television shows to saccharine Hollywood sentimentality, and yet with only a stage, a couple of actors and some props to aid them, Theatre Ad Infinitum presented an inner and real clarity of condition that will effect all who witness it.
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