Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Two beautiful movers and a great musician wordlessly tell the story of an old man’s grief at the loss of a life-time’s love. There is something magically uplifting about this show which will stay with you for days.
I must apologise to the company for this review appearing so late, but I found this show really difficult to write about for three reasons. Firstly, as I was watching it I wished I could have just watched it. I didn’t want to be thinking about it and wondering what to write about it. I so wanted to just let it carry me with it. Less than half way through I was wondering if I could ask my editor to relieve me of the duty and to send another critic to review it. Secondly the question whether to give it 4 or 5 stars has been troubling me for four days now. I wondered if I had really seen and could describe that special quality which lifts a show above the merely good to the truly outstanding. Thirdly, I know that I am a sucker for feel-good shows about bereavement, and so I wondered if I could trust whether the impact this had on me was due to the show or my predisposition. In the end my deliberations have led me to a determination to see the show again, and I think I finally know why I’m giving it five stars.
Translunar Paradise is a wordless pas de deux, performed with exceptional grace by two young Le Coq trained performers, George Mann and Deborah Pugh, accompanied (on stage) by a wonderful musician Kim Heron. The theme is bereavement, but there is such joie de vivre in the hour the trio share that while the show has some breathtakingly sad moments, the lingering impression the show leaves is one of happiness and not sadness. It is really a show about life and love, not death and loss.
It seems a betrayal of the imaginative contract made with the audience during this wordless show to describe in words any more details of the story than the summary given in Theatre Ad Infinitum’s own blurb: "After his wife passes away, William escapes to a paradise of fantasy and past memories, a place far from the reality of his grief. Returning from beyond the grave, Rose revisits her widowed companion to perform one last act of love: to help him let go."
The show opens slowly with masked old William sat at a table, his head hanging half low, his finger tapping. The attention to detail seems dangerously close to technique for technique’s sake and for the first five minutes it looks a bit like an old Trestle show, well done mask-work but lacking in depth. However when William is joined by Rose and when they begin playing scenes from the couple’s past, it really takes off, transporting us into an irresistibly romantic world. The key device of the show is the way the young characters transform into their older incarnations, the performers gently swooping their faces forwards to inhabit the handheld masks in a convention that is often repeated but always with such gracefulness and respect for the act of becoming old that it never tires. The masks visibly take on a life of their own, and at times a whole lifetime can be glimpsed in a single juxtaposition of young face and the old mask.
I hope they will forgive me for saying that George Mann and Deborah Pugh both have interesting rather than conventionally very attractive faces, but I defy anyone not to come to see them as radiantly beautiful and to fall in love with both of them during the course of this show. The dance sequence when they make love is one of the hottest you will see on the fringe, and all the more so for not being explicit.
Indeed I was so entranced by their passion, that I began to feel a terrible sadness at the thought of these two talented beautiful young performers growing old and dying, as they and you and I inevitably will. I became intensely aware of the present, that I was alive now and loving watching an amazing show. I’m often moved by shows which echo and resurrect feelings from my own past, but to be so powerfully transported into past present and future all at once – that really is special.