Brighton Fringe 2012
‘London, city of any dream’. What a true thought, and what an evocative title for a book. Published in 1965, it had photographs of the city by Erwin Feiger and text by Colin MacInnes, who loved London and who wrote ‘Absolute Beginners’. It was about people who had gravitated to London as the place where, they hoped, they would have the freedom to achieve their ambitions and live their dreams.
Nothing changes, and almost fifty years later, ‘Kin’ gives us three of today’s young dreamers. Yan is a Dutch banker, in London to further his career in finance. Luciana is from Argentina, and when she and Yan meet it’s love at first sight. "What eyebrows!"… Luciana wants – "to have children who have children who have those eyebrows", and he is so instantly smitten that he gives her his mobile – "Take it. I’ll call me". Subsequently, as a couple with a house and rent to pay, they need a lodger, and they choose Tom, recently arrived from Yorkshire. Tom is enchanted by living in London – "Getting to know a place is like learning a language, the more you learn the more you understand". As Luciana and Yan are trying to learn each other’s language, with passages where they speak together, over each other, and the space is filled with a mixture of English, Spanish and occasional Dutch.
‘Kin’ is staged as physical theatre by Move to Stand, on a bare black floor with minimal yet very effective lighting, and with music and sound from a single performer, Philippe Nash, squatting with a battery of instruments at one side of the stage. Music that ranges from simple but haunting guitar notes to melodies that fill the theatre, and wind and rain sounds that complement and underpin the scenes created by the actors’ physicality. The Nightingale have taken out several rows of their usual seating, which allows the actors a lot of movement space and also gives an impression of the venue as much bigger than it actually is.
And they use the space wonderfully – sweeping arm and head movements, the three expressive bodies filling every corner with, graceful, almost balletic action and detail. When Yan and Luciana are showing Tom round the house, peering into living room and loft, the three move as a tight group, six eyes focussed on a kitchen appliance, or three heads nodding in unison – up, down, up, down – as they watch a dripping cistern in the bathroom. It’s done so believably that we in the audience can see the drips too …
As the play develops, Tom tells us of his work archiving old photographs of London. Standing in the light from a projector, with his shadow on the wall overlooking him, he describes his feelings about the different layers of the city, and about his fellow citizens and the predictability of their daily routines, sitting on the Tube at the mercy of Metro newspapers and billboards. "I want to tell everyone – Stop, Sit, Look around ". Meanwhile, Luciana and Yan are trying for a baby. The couple cling together sinuously, miming the undressing and the act of love with great tenderness, but it’s a futile endeavour, and each time the sex is followed by a sad evocation of loss – once again no pregnancy – with the two of them rolling their hands over and over as though each swaddling an invisible child. It’s very moving.
City of any dream… but what if the dreams no longer coincide? While domestic life in the house goes on, and the three are becoming more of a ‘family’, more like ‘kin’, their individual projects are moving continents apart. Luciana wants to return to Argentina with Yan, to be with her own kin, and she can’t understand why Yan is obsessed with staying in the capital. Merce Ribot, small, dark-haired and intense, captures Luciana’s growing frustration by injecting sharp bouts of snappiness which cut into her usual happy nature, and also her increasing moodiness at her unfulfilled motherhood, symbolised by a baby shoe she has found in the street and now cherishes. Martin Bonger, tall and thin as Yan, gives us a man driven by career success – "I’m in a good position. My boss says I’ll head up the next portfolio", and its rewards – "My suit cost three hundred pounds …". He’s happy with his life in London – "We fought to be here", to which Luciana retorts – "I fought to be with YOU".
Richard Keiss as Tom could do little to help. He was enchanted by London as city, but he shared a love of the outdoors with Luciana and I wondered if the play’s resolution would be a shift in her affections. When it came, though, the ending was different and much more profound. Having left the house to give the couple space to finish an argument, Tom is killed by a car in the rain-filled street outside. The event was as unexpected as it was shocking. Yan threw himself across the stage, racing from the stage wall into the audience and back again several times, flashing through the light and slamming into Luciana each time he passed her. It was as if we were seeing, simultaneously, the car smashing into Tom and the panic of the couple as they witness the accident from inside their house. My memory of it now has an almost Cubist quality, rather like Duchamp’s ‘Nude descending a staircase’. Physical theatre at its most exciting.
Thrown together by sadness and mourning, Yan and Luciana make love and afterwards their hand and body movements tell us that, this time, they have produced the pregnancy they yearn for. Which poses some interesting questions –
– Will the new baby be in some way a reincarnation of Tom?. Have the couple finally conceived through the intervention of Tom’s ‘spirit’?. Or is it part of some greater cosmic order, that takes one life while giving another?.
– Did Tom in fact die by accident?. Did he perhaps step in front of the car deliberately in order to bring his friends back together again?. (Greater love hath no man…).
-Tom stepped into the road to pick up Luciana’s baby shoe. Why was the shoe out in the rain? Was the shoe in some way connected to Tom’s death and the subsequent pregnancy?
– In fact, there’s so much doubt surrounding the circumstances of Tom’s death, it’s interesting that the character is named – Thomas.
The programme notes tell us that this piece was devised by the company themselves from their own experiences – ‘of feeling lost and foreign in London; of wanting something in a way that hurts; and of tragedy living beside hope’. Sometimes devised pieces can end up self-indulgent and forget about the audience. That’s absolutely not the case here – the lives created seemed real, the action was believable – so many memories of house-shares and relationships… We were gripped from start to finish.