Thursday 9 June 2011

Some loopholes are bound to emerge

Epic, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Epic is an aptly ambitious show, which hopes to explore the past hundred years by merging private stories with pertinent political events. This is a show as ambitious in form as it is in content. The production is packed with different theatrical styles and tricks: there are scattered screens, projecting interviews between the cast and their grandparents, dramatic re-enactments of historical landmarks, abstract dancing interludes and a cameo from Bertold Brecht himself. And, when Brecht appears, he proceeds to deconstruct an already consciously fragmentary show. As I said, ambitious stuff.

With a show spanning so many different times, places and dramatic genres, some loopholes are bound to emerge. And, alas, these holes appear frequently and suck the sense right out of this show. A lot of the time,

Epic just doesn’t make sense. It’s absolutely fine for a narrative to be wilfully chaotic and ambiguous, but the production still needs to cohere. Epic feels like a huge number of different ideas pasted hastily together and the subsequent picture is patchy indeed.

The core concept – the intent to re-discover key historical events in the light of smaller, private stories - is an excellent one. As each actor watches his or her grandparent ‘perform’, it is moving to witness the old and new remembering together. The pleasure here is in the obscure details these stories unearth; the significance of the tiny things in life, despite the urgent political context in which these recollections unfurl. Cast member Chloe’s grandfather, despite being obsessed by his wartime experiences, spends a lot of time talking about his quest for Camembert. Philip Arditti remembers eating eating sausages with his dad, much more strongly than the political rumblings in Portugal.

These autobiographical projections could’ve made for a bold, beautiful show in themselves and perhaps, as this show develops, the company might rest a little more heavily on them. Other dramatic excursions work less well. The interviews are repeatedly interrupted by strange, abstract mimes of monumental moments in history. They don’t really add much. Fragments of dance are weaved in between everything and, to be frank, they just aren’t good enough. Strange physical motifs emerge (during the dancing, the girls grab their pony tails and let their hair, rather oddly, lead them around the stage) – which I could make neither head nor tail off.

The delivery style is odd too, with lots of sections intoned in a blunt and purposefully emotionless voice. I’m sure this is meant to be some homage to Brecht but it feels inappropriate for what is actually a rather heartfelt and enveloping show. Why create distance between the audience and the actors, the actors and their performance, when what is most interesting here is the connections between these elements - the persistent pull of the past on the present, no matter how stubbornly we might insist on forging paths of our own.

Part of the Ipswich fringe festival Pulse, 26 May – 11 June 2011


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