When, as a reviewer, you leave a theatre thinking: “I don’t know what I’m going to write about this” there are two possible scenarios.
Scenario #1: What you’ve been watching is a train wreck of ‘Silver Streak’ proportions and you don’t know best how to formulate the review that rescues the company from ridicule and avoids being spat on in the street by their family and friends.
Scenario #2: What you have been watching entertained, fascinated and confounded your expectations and your mind is still fizzing to the point where you don’t know how best to scale the experience.
Luckily we’re on scenario #2 as I hate being spat on. In fact I walked the aisles of Morrison’s after so mesmerised that I was nearly taken out by two trolleys.
Thing is I went in thinking both plays might not suit my humours. I’m not a massive fan of mute clownery or physical theatre. These things were never in my skill set when I was in training. I have the natural poise and grace of a wardrobe being manoeuvred down a spiral staircase by a pair of PG Tips chimps. I skip not lightly.
But these two shows shattered my calloused expectations.
Antigone by Himmel Theatre
Antigone is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles written circa 441BC, dating from the adolescence of theatre itself. Providing you with a concise synopsis of the plot is well beyond my Secondary Modern education but suffice it to say that there’s choral exposition, hubris and murder; lots of it. There’s a sprawling plot, about ten speaking parts and exposition a-plenty. Himmel Theater presented it all in half an hour with a 27th of the dialogue and only three players.
The production of the play exists in dust. Apt for a play about funeral rites. At the start of the show it exists in a neat heap in the centre of the dais. By the end its spread all over the stage, up the costumes of the performers and, once they are done, the aftermath is a chaos of tracks in the ashes.
The action is playful yet visceral and intense. Stretches of the play are communicated only in physical agonies, punctuated by heavily accented bursts of the text. Come the climax there is a fiddle and harmonies. There was a flurry of drama and then it was over. Thank God for the interval and time to reflect and draw breath.
Blooming Out by Nos Three
And then: send in the clowns. Two Brazilian lady clowns presenting a non-verbal Five Ages of Woman via the medium of clowning to be exact. I’m not generally one for clowns, non-verbal or not. Too much of it involves deeply unfunny people in stupid clothes mucking about with a face full of make-up. You have a bucket full of confetti, do you? Very clever. Now, clear off!
But this was excellent, weapon’s grade buffoonery. You sometimes need to see something done very well to appreciate that your palette has been spoiled by inferior articles. The two clowns, Maria Rocha and Bianca Bertalot, made a delightfully violent and squabbling double act, displaying expert comedic precision and clever use of props throughout.
If the show had just been an expert hour of clowning then it would have been enjoyable enough but underneath it all was a consideration of the female experience.
Topics explored included ‘Beauty’ (make-up as a literal weapon), ‘Period’ (I’ve never seen anyone hypnotised with a tampon before), ‘Pregnancy’ (the vomit, joy and pain), ‘Love’ (that first kiss), ‘Chores’ (the demands placed upon) and, finally, ‘Growing Old’ (and the acceptance of it).
The most affecting section was on the subject of ‘Taboo’: the things that society would rather women not confess to. Both clowns removed their red noses and idiot boards written with confessions and flat-handed strikes flew. By the end the stage was littered with revelations and the clowns’ cheeks were red and scraped of make-up.
But ‘Blooming Out’ was at its core beautiful, haunting and unapologetic. It was with me long after I left the theatre.
Right up to the point where I was nearly taken out by a Morrison’s shopping trolley.