A STRANGE WILD SONG
devised by the company.
Rhum and Clay Tour to 6 June 2015.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 April at The Theatre Chipping Norton.
Individual style brings a corner of history to life.
It’s an evocative title, though it’s not immediately apparent how it fits the show. Which, like Exeter’s Theatre Alibi with their piece Sea of Faces some years ago, is inspired by a collection of old photos.
The family snaps behind Alibi’s show had been dumped, then found by chance, to be stitched together into an imagined family history of the early 20th-century. Rhum and Clay’s collection were taken by a professional, Belgian Léon Gimpel, in 1915 Paris. The show moves them to the Second World War. It might seem centenary-insensitive to do so, but the piece originated in 2012. And there’s plenty of Great War material around, anyway.
More to the point, the updating allows the rediscovery of the photos in a family two generations on to relate more closely to modern times, rather than seeking to create two distant historical settings – something potentially fascinating, but not the route the creators wish to march.
Gimpel shot an army; an army of children in Grenata Street, Paris. Seeing and seizing the photo opportunity, he kept returning there, and if he didn’t see what he wanted, the show suggests he probably helped construct it.
With Alberta Jones’ design to hand, there’s no need for such documentary creativity here. The stage becomes a strange wild kind of battlefield, somewhere bombed-out but also reminiscent of medieval ramparts. At first arms appear from behind various walled fragments, as if signalling in play to each other. The effect’s comic, clown-like, something to make an audience of young children laugh by its unpredictable rhythm and firmness of gesture.
The piece, intended for 8+ and well able to entertain adults, moves later to more serious ground. Yet the three adult performers keep a comic edge in their intentness playing children. To these comes a fourth figure, separate, not part of the group’s acquired, unconscious rhythm. He is the photographer and his interplay with the curious street-kids provides a comic poignancy.
Scenes from the later era of the collection’s discovery, more earnest and word-based, lack the same spark. But the piece overall is neatly devised and skilfully performed.
Philippe/Clive: Christopher Harrisson.
Pepete/Geoffrey: Julian Spooner.
Jacques/Derek: Matthew Wells.
Martin/Leon: Peter Wiedmann.
Musician: Laila Woozer.
Directors: Christopher Harrison, Julian Spooner, Mathew Wells.
Designer: Alberta Jones.
Lighting: Greg Cebula.
Composer: Laila Woozeer.