Brighton Fringe 2013
In Transit – a Solo Song
Venue: The Old Courtroom
In Transit is directed by Graham Shackell and performed by Florence Leon with original live music by Rhys Lovell and William Calderbank. What would happen if, one day, you woke up not even knowing who your name is, where you are, and why ?
No, I am going to say it: this is an astonishing performance. Florence Leon, who plays Ella, a woman trying to put the pieces back together in a journey from the unasked-for blank slate, draws breaths from the audience for her skills and charisma as a physical performer.
So here it is: a physical and verbal play about self and identity. A bare stage, a solo performer, two live musicians, and a story unfolds, spoken, moved and bedded in precision mime. No, not just precision mime – micro-precision mime.
Moments of silent movie style help to form this piece which holds an almost chaplinesque charm and tenderness. A mystery unravels as we are led in story through hellishness of confusion.
Florence Leon is a physical performer of outstanding qualities – protean in her flexibility, almost manic yet never not entirely self-controlled – this is what the central character in this devised piece needs as the broken picture tries to reform, the chaotic puzzle tries to find its meaningful home base. To remember is to put the body back on again – to re-member. This is a piece about just that, and we are taken on the journey.
The challenge here is to take us, the audience, coherently, through that journey of another’s chaos and confusion. If we become too lost then the piece’s intention can become lost in the wrong way. This rests heavily on the shoulders of the performer and the clues provided by the interplay with the music. The music responds and reacts in all the right ways. But sometimes I feel we are a bit too lost – unnecessarily. I heard several people on the way out saying how much they had loved the production and yet wished they could have followed it all. A story of a mind gone blank and a journey of recovery – this mustn’t be the fate of the audience on their way out, and mostly it isn’t – but in places, yes. The narrative gets a bit too convoluted.
Leon uses her skills to fill the imagination space with skill and placement. We enter a nightmare world where, as Dante said, time becomes space. Image and memory warps, and the pieces of the puzzle dance around each other, not quite helping Ella’s lost mind to fit turn together.
Ella tries to find her way amongst all this astral fandango. We follow her. And Leon’s performance is astonishing. I almost never use that word in a review.
Leon is a bold and powerful presence on stage. Her voice is amplified but that technology works, serving the accessibility of the piece, and is never less than seamlessly integrated into the facial and physical theatre. I was eight rows back but it was as if Leon was in row seven staring me in the face. That’s rare skill and its all in her eyes and subtle gesture. Her creation of a car full of people is an act of theatrical genius.
Overall there is so much going on in this piece, you can’t sit back. As an audience member you have to sit fowards and give it a lot of attention to follow it all.
Florence Leon weaves a story with her hands, her voice and so much with her face, and the music and physical body movement serves this in a way that never overpowers these central strengths – the combination of facial and verbal, gestural and dramatic. The movement of a story that never lets up. It’s linear but also there are levels: the narrative of happenings but also the journey back from blank to content, and the battle of chaos and form. This is a story that has parallels in our own loss of self and self-sense in a world of chaotic image and information overload.
I hated the generic wash lighting and wish a lighting rig of enough decent lights could pick her out better. The Old Courtroom really have to sort that for next year. Side angle lights create unneeded and unnecessary facial shadow.
I was impressed by the designed complexity of this piece – it brims over with action, with ideas and emotion. And yet there is a through line, sometimes a bit lost, of a journey to remake the meaningful sense of self through recovering the lost parts of the psyche. Fragments of a something elusive, it sometimes eludes us, the audience, for giving us no time to digest before the next wave of happening washes in. That, of course, reflects what is happening to Ella herself. It’s a difficult line to walk, the line between narrative accessibility and emotional immersion.
Some of her characters are almost Shakespearean and her world has a Tim Burton feel to it. There are many shadows around her light. She ranges from tender emotion, almost naturalism to Chaplinesque grotesque.
Overall, In Transit is probably the best physical theatre you will see at this year’s Fringe. It’s worth seeing for the astonishing performance of Florence Leon.