Bristol Old Vic Theatre Royal
Reviewed by Annette Chown for theatrebristol.net
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I have a bit of an aversion to sitting in the front row. At the cinema you are too close to see the screen properly, and in the theatre there’s a high chance you may get dragged into some kind of audience participation. So, imagine my horror when I heard someone mention no latecomers would be admitted because the audience were ‘part of it’, just before I walked into the auditorium to discover the only seat visibly remaining was in the front row…
The audience are seated on the stage for this production, so as soon as everyone is in, the iron (the big metal ‘curtain’) is lowered and you are left watching a topless man sitting at a table, who has quietly watched you enter the space. It’s at this point you feel the first little bit of theatrical magic; it’s a mixture of anticipation and mild claustrophobia.
At the performance I attended, as the topless actor started to set the scene (by pretending to light a fire), I heard a voice from the audience say ‘I was just thinking you must be getting very cold’. Instead of ignoring this comment, the actor replied ‘I’m fine, no really it’s fine’.
Right from the start there is no illusion of separation between actor and audience. You are absorbed into the world of the characters with skilful storytelling and engaging performances. However, there is none of the dreaded ‘audience participation’ I had feared, just no barriers, allowing the audience to be part of the piece.
Skutr is a Czech theatre company and the play is built around traditional ‘weep-songs’, Slavic songs for the dead. You quickly establish that an old man has died and ‘The Weepers’ have come to mourn him. The old man gives us his musings on life throughout the play, while the other characters explore some of those thoughts and develop them into new ones through song, dance and physical theatre.
Running at about fifty minutes, the show is a short but sweet journey through life. That’s not to say all of the imagery is ‘sweet’; the representation of an abusive relationship, for example, is dark and uncomfortable. Other moments are hilarious (especially the representation of what it’s like to be a teenage boy), and yet more are painfully poignant, as we have all grasped at the shadows of ones we have loved and lost.
The show only runs until Saturday 16th May, but if there are any tickets left, I whole-heartedly recommend it as it’s easily the best of the shows I have seen this Mayfest and it made me glad to be sitting in the dreaded front row!