Poking the Russian Bear

Opus No 7Moscow School of Dramatic Art Theatre (Dmitry Krymov Lab) @ Barbican Theatre, until 14 June 2014

We are in the middle of LIFT 2014; the annual festival that is both glorious celebration of international theatre and sober reminder of the staid and conservative nature of so many Anglo-American creations.

This can rarely be seen as starkly as in the spell-binding Opus No 7; concocted by the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, it 13467788355_dbe5f9fa69_bcombines sublime beauty with haunting imagery to create a remarkable balance that allows a curiously harmonious co-existence of opacity and clarity. As it overwhelms the senses one is left with the impression that this is a performance that could not have been conceived of in this country let alone created here.

Watching Opus No 7 is like working through a cryptic crossword clue. The explanation of the image is always tantalisingly close but remains impenetrable until resolved. There are no easy answers but one holds on to the images as they morph fluidly from one startling creation to another with faith that a narrative will emerge.

OpusNo7Images coalesce until they suggest an idea. The piece is often without dialogue and usually underscored with the lightest of musical notes, faintly directing and reacting to the action. The first half is titled ‘Genealogy’ and tells the tale of the Jews in the second world war but with continually hints to the wider narrative of Jewish history and their earliest beginnings. Biblical reference points abound and their cast have a childish innocence that harks back to the earliest days of God’s children.

They are nameless figures who slowly wander through their past claiming fragments – taking the form of letters, photos and memories – to shape their lost identity. They seem scattered to the wind, lost as individuals but finding each other as one finds ones community. They exist in a hinterland reminiscent of Beckett and the image of Krapp winding through his old tapes comes to mind as they pore through scraps of books becoming intrigued by the unfamiliar words, the sounds and shapes of names that no longer mean anything to them.

<<Continue to full review>>

Advertisements
The-Testament-of-Mary-Fiona-Shaw-photocredit-Paul-Kolnik-copy-630x310

Breathing life into a statue: Fiona Shaw as Mary, Mother of God

The Testament of Mary – Barbican Theatre, until 25 May 2014

The Testament of Mary opens with a quite remarkable image that captures in tableau the vision of the director, Deborah Warner, the mesmeric focus of Fiona Shaw and the inspiration of set-designer Tom Pye; Fiona Shaw’s Mary is in her most recognisable garb, portrayed as a Raphaelite Madonna, but the seemingly tranquil pose is undercut a furious muttering, is it a liturgy or is it something more, which suggests that all may not be as it seems.

Shaw’s Mary presented in a Perspex box with the audience invited on stage to gawp at the figure within; this image hints not just towards Mary as one of art’s most famous faces but also towards the public spectacle of MaryMary as a carnival attraction, the figure of endless fascination.

There is something grotesque about the scene and it is hard not to think of visitors to P.T Barnum’s famous circus. The voyeuristic aspect is brought home by the vulture that sits and watches proceedings and reflects both on the way that the acolytes would feast upon Jesus’ legacy after his death and the role that we continue to play as audience members.

So begins this brilliant adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novella that consists of a monologue from Mary reflecting upon her son and the events leading up to his death. Tóibín gives voice to Mary and presents a human relationship that deftly prizes open the centuries old fallacy presented by the Christian church of Mary as a form of virginal purity; this Mary is a mother, not just in name but also in deed.

Crown of thornsShaw embodies this earthy, human Mary. She is raw, alive and mourning the loss of Jesus as only a mother can. There is a humour amid her grief, thick and black, as she considers the impact her son had on others. Her Mary is Irish, this is both important and unimportant; what nationality should she be? She could be from anywhere but in making her Irish Shaw finds a folksy grounding and enables access to a natural informality in dialogue that can both raise the everyday to the state of the miraculous whilst grounding the miraculous in the everyday.

Running through the play is a strong feminist undercurrent that gives voice and power to the women in Jesus’ life. Advertising the play is an image of Mary gagged by a crown of thorns. It is a heavily symbolic image and suggests the fact that Mary, as woman and mother, is isolated in the aftermath of the crucifixion by those creating the mythology. One could argue that Shaw’s Mary is outlandishly modern but this critique seems misplaced, this is not being presented as history but as fable. Mary’s modernity is only as misplaced as the existence of miracles that she is so sceptical of.

Shaw’s Mary is no true believer – time and again we are pulled back to the central mother-son dynamic and, like many mothers, she cannot bring herself to trust her son’s friends and the actions that the ascribe to him. Her outsider status gives her an angle on to the famous miracles. The Lazarus myth is skewered quite brilliantly and demonstrates the horror that might accompany bringing someone back from dead. She is able to delve into the darkness of the story and the Lazarus that returns is closer to a zombie, reduced to wandering in a near-fugue state or sitting alone halfway between one world and the next.

<<Continue to full review>>

 

Watch the trailer

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/92254717″>The Testament of Mary – Trailer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/barbicancentre”>Barbican Centre</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Read more

The Guardian

The Telegraph

Daily Mail

Independent

And so we reach the final five…

Over the last few days Civilian Theatre has been counting down their Top 10 plays of 2013. The decision making process to find a top 10 was difficult enough to begin with, and there were at least five or six plays that were edged out in the end. It was a surprise to discover that Coriolanus – thoroughly enjoyable – did not get close and even David Tennant in Richard II was edged out; a particularly hard call given it sees one of my favourite verse-speakers meet one of my favourite plays by Shakespeare. A mention should also go to Harriet Walter – superb in a brave all-female production of Julius Caesar and the best Brutus that I have seen on stage, but with enough overall flaws to edge it out of contention.

But a reminder of what we have seen already

10) The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Chichester Festival and Duchess Theatre

09) Ubu Roi – Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican’s Silk Street Theatre

08) Macbeth – Trafalgar Transformed at the Trafalgar Studios

07) Mydidae – Trafalgar Studios

06) Othello – Olivier Stage at the National Theatre

And so at Number 05….Fraulein Julie

And the link to the original review

No 05 Fraulein Julie