Out of darkness comes Light

Light – Theatre Ad Infinitum @ The Pit, Barbican Centre (Touring until 16 February 2015)

Performed as part of the London International Mime Festival

Light is proof, as if any were needed by now, that Theatre Ad Infinitum are staggeringly good. Just staggeringly, staggeringly good. They are a theatre company that completely and utterly Theatre-Ad-Infinitum-Light-c-Alex-Brenner-photoconfound expectations, and produce plays make you leave the auditorium wanting to tell everyone you know that the absolutely most important thing they could be doing is going to see one of their productions.

Hence the gushing opening paragraph.

Slowly but surely people are waking up to their talents. Light, performed as part of the London International Mime Festival, sold out months ago. They clearly have a devoted fan base and have won a number of fringe awards but it feels like they are currently on the cusp, like 1927 with Golem, of producing a show that takes them out of the Barbican’s rather tiny Pit theatre and onto the main stages.

Theatre Ad Infinitum are not a company that like to sit still. They came to my attention at the London International Mime Festival in 2012 with Translunar Paradise – a work of quiet, tragic brilliance. It demonstrated in its simple, understated way the art of puppetry and despite the alienating effects of the mime it felt more human than any other play produced that year.

Theatre-Ad-Infinitum-Light-c-Alex-Brenner-please-credit-_DSC4592-dimmer-dressesThey followed it up with something completely different; the hyper-verbal, bundle of energy that was Ballad of the Burning Star. If not as technically refined as Translunar Paradise, it was a fabulously entertaining take on the most contentious issue in world politics. It was a forceful piece of theatre that refused to allow itself to be pigeonholed and gave very few easy answers.

And now they are back with Light. This time we are in genre sci-fi territory with a dystopian piece of futurism, imagining what might be as twin developments in technology and neuroscience allow for an ever greater entwining of individual and social consciousness.

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Life is a cabaret, old chum

Ballad of the Burning Star – Theatre Ad Infinitum @ the Battersea Arts Centre then touring (details)

Or, in homage to the style of the evening, how do you solve a problem like the occupied territories?

There is no doubt that Theatre Ad Infinitum’s new production, first seen at Edinburgh and subsequently taking the old-fashioned route of touring the country before pitching up for an extended stay at the Battersea Arts Centre, takes on contentious subject matter.

That the story is told through a drag queen and her cabaret troupe is a fun but rather unsurprising mechanism. Once a radical device, these days it does serve as a useful alienation device and, in the case of Ballad ofThe Starlets in Ballad of the Burning Starthe Burning Star, the issues remain so sensitive that it is critical for depoliticising the very act of storytelling.

The events we hear are shocking but if told as straight narrative then perspectives of the characters would be caught in the surrounding context and events discarded as being irrevocably biased. Or alternatively the play would try so hard to capture both positions that the value of the final product is fundamentally undermined.

We are told this story by MC Star and her Starlets, and through this prism the story is seen to unfold in a Brechtian manner. At no point is there any expectation that what is being seen are to be understood as real Israelis or Palestinians, the audience is reminded throughout that they are being shown representations of a family, and representations of real events.

Theatre-Ad-Infinitum-Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star-∏-Alex-Brenner-please-credit-_DSC82911-1024x763This allows certain latitude to extract humour from the story, characters are able to step outside of their roles and comment on proceedings and it allows the development of a duality and tension between the increasingly autocratic Star and the actions of Israel in the occupied lands.

That Star is played by writer and director Nir Paldi hints of a biographical nature to the story, and throughout this feels like a passion project that has developed a life of its own. It is also embeds a sense of truth that often only comes from a person with first-hand experience and, in this case, has been at the sharp-end of the consequences of forty years of regional foreign policy.

Any story must be understood within the context of its creation. The story of Israel, the lead character in the show, like so many narratives around the state of Israel, must be understood within the context and implication of the wider story of Jewish history.

Israel, the character, and Israel, the state, are separate individuals but share such a common history that the two must constantly struggle to be separated. The state and the individual share the collective memory of the Holocaust and the legacy of the historical persecution of the Jews through Europe and the Middle East is reinforced to create a state of mind of defensiveness. Both individual and state cannot be understood without understanding this context.

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Transcendental Translunar Paradise

Translunar Paradise –  Theatre Ad Infinitum at the Barbican Pit, until 21 January

It takes a little less than ten minutes of Theatre Ad Infinitum’s remarkableTranslunar Paradise, a show that is about death and then process of moving forward, to be assured that its creator, George Mann, has developed an intimate understanding of the rhythms of grieving. The programme provides background but you do not need it to know that this devised work was forged in the pain of experience. It captures, and expresses with sublime beauty, a simple truth that is missed time and time again in lesser works: that the true tragedy of death lies not in the moment of loss but in the moment of realisation that life continues relentlessly onwards.

A bravura opening sequence sees two masked performers enact the final moments of a long-lasting relationship. We watch actions that have been repeated so often it is as if they have been instilled in the muscle memory of the characters; a pat on the elbow, an offer to carry the suitcase, a crossword clue. These little touches are what remains after a loss and offer a gateway to the past, where the man can relive the key moments in his life and create a way of holding on to what has been lost. In some ways similar to Pixar-film Up, Translunar Paradise begins in tragedy and then expands the scope to explore how this impacts on the surviving partner.

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