Brighton Fringe 2017
Cornish landscape artist Peter Lanyon’s untimely death after a gliding accident in 1964 is inspiration for the first one-man show by physical theatre performer Paul Attmere.
When Peter Lanyon took to the air in a glider he found a new way of seeing the landscape, which inspired and propelled his painting. His death, aged 46, from the consequences of a flying accident, have in turn inspired Paul Attmere’s beguiling one-man show which dramatises, in a fittingly abstract way, the final moments of Lanyon’s life.
It’s a conversational start. Some biographical information about the artist is related to us, backed by British jazz vibe. Paul tries reading a letter he’s written to Lanyon but his words falter so he turns instead to a poem by WS Graham, from which the show gets its title. Suddenly, like a gust of wind lifting a glider, an amplified voice fills the lofty church interior. The booming recitation of Graham’s Thermal Stair frees Paul to quit the narration and start to physically interpret the story.
This is where his strength lies and it’s an action packed 50 minutes, with images built from simple props – a pipe, suitcase, a sheet – and quickly discarded. Lanyon wrote about his time in hospital, supposedly recovering from an accident, and Paul matches words with movement, how a crack in the ceiling becomes a portal to freedom, the doctor making his rounds, the pretty nurses providing comfort. A red balloon, representing the blood clot that suddenly killed him, is bounced around the room before going pop. The sea and sky are evoked through sound and dance with much rolling and folding, leaps and twirls. A ‘plane is fashioned from sand.
Some lighter sequences of music-hall humour don’t quite hit the mark, though the line “there’s something wonderfully authentic about excrement” made me smile. The venue was not ideal for the work, having a tricky acoustic and the audience in a semi-circle of pews. This made audience participation problematic; we, and I suspect the actor too, felt exposed.
Thirty minutes in, the piece (ahem) really takes flight, with the pyjama clad Paul shuddering against invisible currents, Lanyon’s signature cap in a turbulent battle to escape. These abstract moments, where ideas are expressed physically, are powerful and more successful than the acted sequences, which seem a little forced.
Sound and music drives the action, bringing in outside voices and noise. It’s a rich, eclectic mix of jolly music hall, British jazz and great sound effects. At one point child’s voice repeats “Mummy needs you” over and over; it’s one of few times we glimpse Lanyon’s personal life and it hits home.
If the piece never quite soars like Lanyon, and lacks some compositional elegance, it’s evocative, thoughtfully made and performed with physical skill and integrity.