by Christopher Harrisson. devised by Rhum and Clay with Charlotte Dubery, Sacha Plaige, Jess Mabel Jones adapted from The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig.
Underbelly (Big Belly) Cowgate To 30 August 2015.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 August.
Continually inventive and intriguing exploration of identity.
As an up-and-coming theatre company Rhum and Clay have surely come right up, earthily inexplicable name notwithstanding. Next question is their staying-power. This seems a close-knit group and different artistic interests or opportunities often split those up.
The few that survive, identity intact yet developing, are ones with a strong central artistic drive and personality. Cheek by Jowl is a rare example of a company that has sustained work over thirty-plus years. Complicité is another.
It’s Complicité who come to mind with Rhum and Clay – along with another new company starting to go big, Idle Motion. Each has its own clear identity. R + C’s is, unusually these days, predominantly male, this show included, with the three Artistic Directors being the show’s director and its two non-percussive male actors.
There’s a quiet concentration, an almost studious aspect to their work (even when, as in A Strange Wild Song, the story has a playful element). Alongside this runs a questing intellectual sense, expressed through vivid and original stage images and moments. While these contribute to an overall fractured narrative, it is the images and their force that remain memorable.
64 Squares refers to a chessboard, with the vast number of options contained within a game of chess. It’s built-out of a novel by Austrian author Stefan Zweig; called The Royal Game in English; it’s original title referred more directly to chess. Written in 1941 it’s set against a background of political uncertainty, oppression and escape – all things putting identity under suspicion and stress.
To the point where one man’s identity is so fractured the continuity memory provides no longer exists. Four performers split the character who knows one thing of himself; from a letter sewn on his shirt: he’s a ‘B’, to add to Franz Kafka’s Josef K in the dislocated alphabet of 20th-century existence.
B might be an exile – he’s on board ship. Somehow he can play chess and is due to play at championship level. Patches of his life emerge without assembling into a solution while Fred McLaren’s rhythmic outbursts on percussion add to the sense of dislocation.
B: Julian Spooner, Matthew Wells, Róisín O’Mahony, Fred McLaren.
Percussionist: Fred McLaren.
Director: Christopher Harrisson.
Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin.
Lighting: Geoff Hense.