FringeReview UK 2019
Directed by Kari Holtan for De Utvalgte, it features a video design by Boya Bøckman lit by Jean-Vincent Kerebel, coalescing around trees and blue sky which mimics suspended egg-shapes in the foreground; these receive projected images of children’s faces. Till November 9th.
The Coronet Theatre manage the extraordinary with an insouciant flick. Norwegian is often heard here, with surtitles.
Norwegian dramatist Jon Fosse was last at the Coronet in 2014 with Dead Dogs. His very different Shadows is part installation, part recording and image beamed onto suspended egg-shaped bags, part mime with four silent actors who punctuate the most extraordinary exploration of age and looking back: voiced by children. Where else could this flourish but in the Coronet’s chipped magic, distressed surfaces and ever-recessed oval stage?
Directed by Kari Holtan for De Utvalgte, it features a video design by Boya Bøckman – lit by Jean-Vincent Kerebel – which mimics those suspended eggs with images coalescing around trees and blue sky which fades. The eggs feature ten beamed faces projected in rotation, sometimes beaming. The actors below – Torbørn Davidsen, Eva Berit Bøe Moen, Kari Vik Knutsen, Hans Wedvik – sit in dark or shadow, embrace and stand finally to embrace as one helps the other into a coat.
It’s the installation – recording and projections – that expresses most, with surtitles revealing litanic hesitancies and poetic banality: the way people hedge bets on the past. A couple affirm their longevity, another couple flicker a little guilt as one approaches the wife he left for his partner many years ago. In one version he seems to return to her. We start with collisions: ‘you haven’t changed at all’ and we end with the blink of years as ageing accelerates how we experience time.
With a palimpsest of repetitions it’s easy to hear the consonance, elongated and clipped vowels of the original language. It’s easy to read the surtitles too, even though Fosse’s way with repeats might weary a little with the fourth variation of a sentence in a row.
Spoken by ten unnamed children whose faces float suspended like balloons, there’s a confiding clarity and occasional asperity as they apparate or just as quickly switch off. The children – mostly girls – dazzle with a straight delivery and occasional amusement. Though it’d be difficult to sustain much longer than the 65 minutes of this production, it’s hypnotic and ends on a question-mark.
One boy bears a passing resemblance to columnist Owen Jones, often told he looks about twelve. There’s a fierce truth and clarity in their pronouncements. The paradox of having children enunciate sad sliding litanies of growing old has the effect of scorching frailty and abstracting it as a universal human condition. Most of all when each couple discusses where they are and not knowing where, the children’s innocence bears something else: the universal incomprehension of death, at any age. Continual repeats from everyone of where they are and not knowing suggests some tenebrous crossing of the Styx, couples wandering in death’s dream kingdom; should it exist. ‘The best of this kind are but shadows’ as Theseus and Fosse remind us.
The children and adult actors are scrupulously directed, admirable in mime and recorded spoken roles. It’s a pity the children aren’t credited but that might prove inappropriate. As a commentary on frailty, ageing memory and old desire spoken by those who’ve yet to experience any such things, it speaks with unnerving innocence. This will either irritate or fascinate. Where else but the Coronet would allow you to experience either, occasionally at the same time? But like time, blink and this production’s gone.