Birds (Manipulate Festival/ Traverse Theatre)

I was recently part of the Manipulate Festival ‘Young Critics’ scheme – I know, right. How far can I push this whole ‘young’ thing. I saw two shows, and was mentored by critic and all-round knowledgable person Gareth Vile.

Sita Piaraccini is a wild-haired, wide-eyed, intoxicating creature of innocence who has somehow found herself the sole human survivor in a post-apocalyptic world. She constantly fusses over a mound of earth, scrabbling to bring order in to a disordered landscape. She is desperately hungry; taunted by the rude interjections of her own stomach, she forages for scraps inside tin cans and reluctantly gnaws on a piece of wood. She’s the sort of post-apocalyptic survivor that we would all hope to be, but deep down we know we are not: pragmatic, hopeful and kind.

The performance is supported by Foley artist and musician David Pollock, who creates the sort of organic, wholesome sounds that I haven’t heard since childhood, and that would not be out of place alongside the best of Oliver Postgate. From the gentle pad-pad-padding of bare feet on dry grass, to the feathery flutterings of wings that suggest she is not totally alone in this world – every sound is a fulfilling joy, giving great depth to this piece.

What is so brilliant about Bird is that everything on stage is relatable on a most primitive level. Piaraccini’s performance is nuanced and clever. There are no words uttered – for what good are words when there is no-one to talk to – but we are still acutely aware of her pains and her loneliness, thanks to her ability to express emotion even with the flicker of a finger or the turn of her head. Ultimately it is a simple little tale, but one that shows that Piaraccini really gets what it is to be human.

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Threads (Manipulate Festival/ Traverse Theatre)

I was recently part of the Manipulate Festival ‘Young Critics’ scheme – I know, right. How far can I push this whole ‘young’ thing. I saw two shows, and was mentored by critic and all-round knowledgable person Gareth Vile.

 

Ach, I don’t know.

On the one hand I know that Threads, a UK premiere from Quebecois company Theatre Incline, is a reworking of a folk story of female empowerment, a self-described ‘mythological tale that is on the side of life’.

And that’s great. I’m on board. I love me some female empowerment.

But Threads an engaging and well-performed piece that is frustratingly blemished by a few annoying flaws.

A mountain woman – or spirit? – is ravished by an ogre and condemned to live an entrapped, lonely life amidst the sandy fallout of war. The offspring of this violence is an initially irritating but eventually quite sweet daughter, born with a gammy foot and a mane of red hair.

 The production is visually striking – the heap of sand centre stage continually offers up creative opportunities for buried prop treasure  – but it is marred by some intrusive and sentimental narration. A wise female voice over-elucidates the threads of love binding a mother and child, oddly reminiscent of Vanessa Redgrave endlessly compounding the virtues of love in Call the Midwife. After a while this begins to grate: perhaps if the narration hadn’t been so focused on constant exposition, the narrative weight could have been picked up by the two very gifted performers and puppet-masters, Jose Babin and Nadine Walsh.

For a piece so concerned with exploring the most essential of human relationships, I would have preferred to have had a stronger one with those on stage, rather than having Redgrave 2 chiming in with flowery maxims on all-healing strength of a mother’s love. This type of language sits at odds to the brutal and bloody signifiers of rape on stage, and not in a way that leads to any greater understanding of either.

Threads gives us some beautiful effects, an interesting take on mythology and the puppetry is first rate. Unfortunately, its impact is undermined by the simplistic philosophy of redemption and the narration that over-elucidates the story.