Review: Translunar Paradise @ Exeter Phoenix

In a tender exploration of love and loss, Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise, written and directed by George Mann, confronts the difficult concepts of death and ageing without speaking a word. This play focuses on the elderly William’s (George Mann) attempts to accept the recent loss of his beloved wife, Rose, (Deborah Pugh), with help from a spiritual version of Rose. In a series of beautifully choreographed sequences, audiences watch their married life unfold, as William teeters on the balance between remembering the past, and not becoming lost in it.

A defining feature of Translunar Paradise is the use of hand-held masks to distinguish between the memories of William and Rose’s earlier life together, and their life in old age. On first sight, these wrinkled faces seemed slightly creepy, but through the actors’ skill, they quickly gained life. It was incredible how much emotion the actors were able to convey with a static facial expression. Pugh and Mann used their body language to characterise Rose and William, defining distinct personalities within minutes. Through sequences as simple as walking along carrying a suitcase, they managed to portray the dynamic of their marriage, with a fiercely independent Rose respectfully cared for by her husband. The nature of their relationship was perhaps more forcibly displayed in mime than words could have illustrated, because, without voices, the audience had to focus on every shift in the actors to learn about the characters. Their body language was such that even without the masks, the different stages of their life would have been clear.

In contrast to the fixed expressions of the masks and the slow movements of the actors in old age, Mann and Pugh characterised the couple’s youth with agile, athletic movements and animated faces, a perfect manifestation of the energy and idealism of youth. This made the moments in their youth where they slowed down even more poignant, creating a contrast between the pace of life, and the slow, emotional strain of sad events. The unity between Pugh and Mann’s performances was incredible to watch. They worked flawlessly together, slipping in and around each other in impossibly intricate movements. This incredible choreography perfectly encapsulated the chemistry between the married couple, with their seamless dance a reflection of the equilibrium in their marriage. These sequences created a montage of their relationship, through explorations of both the everyday and the milestones; despite being slightly stereotyped narratives, they were nonetheless very powerful.

The masks were not only used as a definition between youth and age, but also allowed a separation between the physical and the conscious. This fostered an even deeper emotional exploration of the characters. For example, when William drew away from the physicality of his mask and retreated into himself to fight his way across the stage in a tormented, internal conflict.

The music used in Translunar Paradise perfectly brought the production together, with the talented Sophie Crawford playing the accordion and singing as part of the piece. The music, created by Kim Heron and George Mann, was an elegant extension to the performance with motifs characterising the different stages of the couple’s life. The simplicity of the set was maintained by using the accordion to create ambient sounds, such as using the sigh of its closing bellows. Crawford’s powerful voice also met this requirement, like in her recreation of an eerily convincing air raid siren.

The minimalist set was an essential feature of Translunar Paradise as it meant that all attention was on the performers, with the few props used seamlessly integrated into the performance. Props were powerfully used in a stream of consciousness style, in that they would spark William’s chain of thoughts, initiating a slip back into the past. For example, the ritual of making tea, with the habitual placing of two cups on the table, became a painful reminder of what was lost. This struck William with memories of past cups drunk together, forming into a whole sequence where the ghost of Rose attempts to force him to accept her death by hiding the extra cup and preventing him from pouring milk in her cup. Sequences like this were both tender and amusing, making Translunar Paradise an emotive consideration of grief.

Translunar Paradise is quite simply a stunning love story, where the choreography and talented performers created a love that is indefinable through words. In their movements, Pugh and Mann were able to map the progression of a married life and explore tender themes of how to cope with loss. Although some of the life events were slightly stereotyped, this was perhaps essential to ensure that audiences weren’t initially alienated by its mime style, and instead were drawn in from the outset.

 

Katrina Bennett 

 

Featured image source.

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