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.

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