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Archive for January, 2011

La Maldición de Poe (The Curse of Poe)

Teatro Corsario, Purcell Room, Southbank Centre

Teatro Corsario

Teatro Corsario

Something strange happened in the moments before La Maldición de Poe (The Curse of Poe) began. The audience, sensing that the show was about to begin, voluntarily stopped their gibber-gabber and gazed expectantly at the stage, but instead of the usual house lights down, stage lights up, curtain, show-time, we were plunged into total darkness. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Gradually a cross light was raised revealing a darkly discernable stage within a stage; a new space where the reimagining of the early life of Edgar Allan Poe was to be played out by puppets manipulated by the totally invisible but omnipresent Teatro Corsario originally from Valladolid, Spain. The moment we spent in darkness was a passage, a transition, an instant in which to forget normality and jump into the world created by Corsario; a place of murderous monkeys, bumbling policemen, wicked and cruel parents, disease and death.

In the midst of this chaos young Edgar, rather an unfortunate chap in real life, just wants to kiss and fumble with his first sweetheart Annabelle in the graveyard where the play opens. However their romance is foiled by Annabelle’s vicious mother who disapproves of the relationship. Moreover it is Edgar’s birthday so he must visit his grandparents, who unbeknownst to him have been murdered by a deranged orangutan who escaped from his handler. A policeman hears the commotion of the murder and arrives on the scene to find Edgar hiding from the disturbed knife wielding mammal. He puts two and two together and of course makes five, so Edgar flees the scene in order to evade arrest. The chase is on. Before the 60 minutes are up a drunkard accidentally murders his wife, Edgar is tortured, a dog is hanged by a cat, Annabelle dies of consumption and Edgar is visited by a strange apparition. Those familiar with Poe will recognise elements from three of his works: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Annabelle Lee and The Black Cat

If it all sounds rather implausible, think again. So complete was the construction of Edgar’s world, so tight and perfect was the control of perspective, colour, and lighting that the whole universe of topsy turveydom actually made sense. It was truly visionary theatre, hallucinatory. I was mesmerised as the stage was filled with bubbles, and a huge brightly coloured manta ray swam elegantly through the air seemingly impervious to the two dead bodies that were doing a final macabre dance of death in their watery grave.

There were huge emotional currents flowing through the piece. Being almost totally devoid of spoken word, the feeling enters the consciousness in quite a different way to more language intensive means of provoking sensation in an audience. The sentiments are necessarily more basic, but for that they are more direct, striking instantly to the core. There was genuine tenderness when Edgar’s grandparents dance together and face-hiding horror as they are slain by the orangutan. Perhaps most moving of all was the gentle, lonely death of Annabelle. A fallen Shakespearean hero’s chest continues to rise and fall intensely even after the conspirators have cleaned their knives of blood. The total unmoving permanence of the death of a puppet is thus something rather more poignant.

This was one of the most original pieces of performance I have seen in a long time. In turning Edgar’s characters against him, Teatro Corsario are saying that the curse of Poe was his own imagination whilst at the same time revealing their own fierce creative minds.

4.5 stars

This production is part of the London International Mime Festival, which this reviewer will be covering in more detail in coming editions.

 

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Caesar

Caesar

I don’t want to ruin this RSC production of Julius Caesar for you, but Caesar doesn’t die in the end! Rather he is assassinated, as the script demands, at the beginning of Act III, before the audience has even had its half time ice-cream. Indeed, Caesar only appears in three scenes which is a pity as Greg Hicks’ powerfully velvet baritone and insistent oratory make him a captivating statesman even as his nervous hand-wringing belies the traumas and fear that run through him. Thus Caesar is not the central character of Shakespeare’s play he is merely one of the players in what is an undulating tide of power struggle. As if to make the point, director Lucy Bailey opens the play with a scene not originally conceived by The Bard in which Romulus and Remus fight a bloody battle to the death over where to found Rome. As well as setting the gory tone of the production, this extra scene shows the audience that Rome was founded on violence, setting in motion the cycle of bitter rivalry and brutality that would plague Rome until Octavius was crowned emperor Augustus.   Miss Bailey shows us then that the death of Caesar is no more than an oscillation in the waves of dominance. Certain as he was doomed to die, was Pompey before him and the conspirators afterwards.

The staging is sparse and dark. Forget the image of Rome as a great civilization of sparkling white marbled grandiosity and intelligent exchange; this is a world where fear, portents and bloodshed rule. The people of Rome, portrayed using members of the cast and video screens, are base, seemingly infirm of body and mind, wailing incoherently into the night. Wonderful music by composer Django Bates (played by a live brass ensemble) is as fanfares atonally juxtaposed to replicate the tension of the city streets.

Against this murky and electrifying backdrop a plot is hatched and executed that will ultimately taunt the conspirators until their final hour which we witness in all its gruesome detail. John Mackay who plays Cassius physically dominates Brutus (Sam Troughton) which makes his attempts to flatter Brutus into conspiracy and murder all the more toe curling. Mackay seems to take a while to warm up but the flames of ambition are visible in his eyes even as he sweet-talks Brutus in the first Act.

It is Brutus’ transformation that steals the show however. Sam Troughton takes us on a journey through the psyche of a man desperate to hide his dark inner life behind a veneer of stoicism, nobility and honour. His deliberate and taut posture reflects brilliantly his beliefs as to proper outward presentation of character. Yet Brutus, despite claims to the contrary, suffers from the same fault as Caesar – he is susceptible to flattery.  Once he is flattered to murder Troughton plays him as a coward, unable to come terms with what is to be done. He breaks down in hysterical tears in front of Portia, his wife (Hannah Young) who sees his trouble even if she cannot name it. At the moment of assassination he hangs back like a scared child, but then frantically joins in the violence, and the taste of blood transforms him. The character emerges the other side, louder, brasher, more confident and dominant as he tries to emulate the man he has just killed, and domineer over his new enemies.  Yet the ghost of Caesar hangs over him and we never lose the sense that this is a deeply troubled man.

There are commendable performances also from Oliver Ryan as Casca whose naked coarseness is palpable. Darrell D’Silva plays a complex and ambiguous Mark Antony who cleverly disguises his real motives and desires. Antony’s “friends, Romans, countrymen” eulogy of Caesar is masterfully delivered, bringing out the singing meter of the poetry laid thick with irony and contempt.

Lucy Bailey has created turbulent realization of Caesar’s Rome as a place of continual strife and battle. I was not wholly sold on the constant deployment of video images of burning temples as a backdrop to the action, and the interaction between the video and characters was not entirely convincing.  Audibility was an issue with less experienced members of the cast as the Roundhouse setting involves sitting around three sides of a square stage meaning that backs are turned toward sections of the audience at times. Nevertheless this is a dark, visceral and thrilling production of Julius Caesar that cleverly places the central character as the history of Rome rather than the title character.

4 Stars

At London’s Roundhouse until 05.02.11

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