Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A modern story of travel and loss is interspersed with a history of aviation, particularly the female pioneers. Idle Motion has created a show that is visually arresting, thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching. Definitely one to see – and a company to keep on seeing.
Vanishing Horizon is a show about the female pioneers of aviation and about a young woman, Anna, who travels to South Africa to pick up her grandmother’s ashes. But it’s about so much more: it’s about connectedness and loss, about the intersections of time and place, and about the place of the individual in the larger scheme of things.
The show starts with performers seated among a pile of suitcases, a familiar sight from airports round the world. The show starts and the tableau breaks up into separate but interlocking stories. Anna is about to set off on a journey that’s distressing, but as yet unexplained. Her partner tries to soothe her concerns as she leaves; he is about to narrate a radio documentary about the history of aviation, and the female pioneers that led the way. As she travels to South Africa Anna reads a letter from the recently deceased grandmother she never met; it explains why as a young woman she walked away from her life and from her child.
The stories of Anna travelling to her grandmother, of her grandmother’s life journey, of James’ radio documentary and of aviation are interleaved with great skill and tenderness. The human story at the heart of the show is given added emotional resonance and depth by the historical overlay. It’s a play which challenges and makes you think, even as it penetrates deep into your emotional core. Air travel has made the world smaller and allowed us to be more connected, while simultaneously widening the spaces between us and making us more disconnected. Anna’s loss is explored: can you lose something you’ve never had? Her physical and emotional journeys mirror each other as she comes to an understanding of the family story that has defined her life.
Idle Motion are a company who devise their own work and this production is a fantastic testament to the success of that process. While it’s a great ensemble production, Ellie Simpson as Anna deserves particular mention for the emotional journey she takes us on; there were certainly several scenes which left me with tears in my eyes.
As well as being a wonderful ensemble performance, Vanishing Horizon is a stunning visual tour-de-force. The company devises new and ingenious ways that illuminate how we see everyday objects and their place in our lives, and uses them to heighten the storytelling experience, expanding it beyond the particular. We define things, and, in turn, are defined by our use of things. In Vanishing Horizons, Idle Motion conjure worlds from suitcases and use them in ways you’d never imagine: suitcases have images projected on them, become drawers, desks and even a mini-bar.
In addition to the suitcases, there are maps that are ‘histories of hope and sagas of conquest’ that expand and compress the world; paper planes which soar through the air and crash to the ground; letters and numbers on card that summon up journeys and airports. Their use of puppetry was exceptionally skilful; the faceless figures conveying so well the characters that accompany us from our past. In terms of both visual and emotional impact, the final scene, in particular, is heart-stoppingly beautiful.
The show would have benefited from a bigger space, particularly, one with more racking of seating so that the visuals and tableaux could be better appreciated. Additionally, there was some noise bleed from reception and some feedback. This isn’t a fault of the production, more of the Edinburgh space. Given that the show created such a wonderfully warm intimacy between audience and performers, these distractions were the more annoying. That said, these are minor quibbles which didn’t spoil a wonderful show.
Idle Motion have created something very beautiful which has whole worlds and histories within it.