Brighton Fringe 2016
What is War?
War is when a cloud of dust falls from the ceiling.
War is when there are loud bangs.
War is when men come to our village and burn my house.
War is when my mother and I have to run away
War is when I have to run away on my own.
War is when I don’t know where I’m running to.
War is completely incomprehensible to a child. An overwhelming, jarring pandemonium of sounds and sights.
They had hung a white sheet at the front of the Marlborough stage, pegged to a clothesline to form a back-projection screen, with a lamp behind. A mother – we saw her shadow cast against the screen – was trying to reassure her daughter, stroking her head to calm her fears. The woman was real, but the child was a cut-out shape producing a black silhouette on the sheet, and the two worked together to give us a sense of fear turning to panic – the world turned upside down.
Then we saw the soldiers – simple, crudely-rendered shapes of figures with helmets and guns. Then we saw the huts of the child’s village, and then the star shapes of explosions and the jagged triangle arrangements of the flames where the buildings were being torched. Hidden from our view, the lamp behind the screen was actually an overhead projector, an OHP, and the woman was laying the cut-out shapes of all these things on the glass to project them onto the sheet.
The woman didn’t always leave the cut-outs on the OHP – sometimes she held them in the light as she moved back and forth between the projector and the screen, so the shadows changed in size, or altered their form as she turned them sideways. Of course she changed her size, too – when she moved close to the projector we sometimes saw the shadow of just her face, filling a full third of the screen.
There was sound, too. A cacophony of explosions, gunfire, and the harsh crackle of burning buildings. With the stark visuals and the constant changes of size on screen, the overall effect was overwhelming. Unimaginable. Another world …
Another world, indeed. At the very start of the show, the screen was completely dark and all we saw were two spots of light, blue and orange, circling one another. The actor, invisible behind the sheet, held two small torches to create the effect, and told us of the two Planets – the Red-Yellow Planet and the Blue Planet. Two different Worlds.
The Blue Planet is of course Western Europe or North America, cool and verdant; and most of us who live here have known only peace and prosperity, for several generations. But for people from the Red-Yellow Planet it’s a haven of security, a beacon of hope that they’re trying desperately to reach. Because the Red-Yellow planet is all those places that are hot, sandy or rocky, and poor, and angry.
Gaël Le Cornec’s father is from Brittany, but she’s half Brazilian, with dark hair pulled tightly back into a bun behind her head. She’s lightly built, with a fresh face that could make her thirteen or thirty, and this show is her creation. In silhouette behind the screen she was the mother, but then she squeezed under the sheet – a border fence? – to become a refugee child, Mana.
Mana’s journey, like countless other refugees from war zones or oppressive regimes, is fraught with danger and hardship. The power of Le Cornec’s production is that she doesn’t attempt to show us the reality – brutalised child soldiers, or the risks of abuse or falling into slavery, or the rigours of clandestine voyages and border crossings. Instead we see from a child’s viewpoint – there are giants, and dragons. Dreamlike images, unforgettable – many of them done with the distorted perspectives that she produces with the projected images on the screen.
Brilliant lighting design, by Pablo Fernandez Baz, produced a heightened sense of unreality. The screen could be lit blue or red instead of just white, and after the actor pulled it down we could see the whole stage alternately drenched in fire or moonlight in vibrant primary colours. Bright white backlighting picked out Gaël Le Cornec as she moved around the space – elegant movements, fluid as a dancer.
Finally, she reaches the Blue Planet, and she’s ecstatically happy to be safe – at last.
But of course, we who live on the Blue Planet are very anxious about our security. We’re very worried that they are going to attack us, or infect us somehow with their poverty, or their cultural values. So we’re very careful to only let in those of them who’ve got very good reasons for leaving their country.
The Blue Planet may be safe – but it isn’t kind.