Edinburgh Fringe 2011
The Seagull Effect uses elements of dance and physical theatre to recount stories from the night of the Great Storm in 1987, and particularly to explore the arbitrary nature of chance and experience.
The weather is a perennial topic of conversation in Britain. Four seasons in a day, we tell each other, unpredictable, anything can happen. And yet for all this, the Great Storm of 1987 was not predicted, was outwith our normal patterns – in Britain hurricanes don’t happen – and caught us all, including the weatherman, Michael Fish, by surprise.
Idle Motion, a theatre company whose members are themselves too young to remember the storm, have collected people’s stories of that night and interleave them with each other, along with hauntingly beautiful visual effects. There’s a young woman on her way to an interview, a couple who have split up but are flung back together as a consequence of the storm, a wannabe weatherman who’s predicting the storm when the professionals are still predicting nothing more out of the ordinary than some high winds.
Initially, there’s a narrator (Grace Chapman) who stands up from among the audience to wonder why the actors haven’t come onto stage yet, and then throughout stands back as someone who’s both part of the action but slightly apart as observer. It’s a device that works well as an accompaniment to the ensemble acting from the rest of the cast, so that the stories can be told and their implications commented on and explored. It also makes light work of the scientific and philosophical titbits that intersperse the scenes in this show with thoughtful musings on chaos theory, randomness and chance in our lives, how seemingly small events can come together to achieve larger changes.
Technically, the show is stunning; the combination of projection, lighting and projection is impeccably coordinated to achieve some spectacular tableaux. Their use of props throughout is ingenious, but the umbrellas, in particular, highlight the theme and play a leading part. There’s a beautiful moment where umbrellas overlap to form a screen that images are projected on to. And another scene where magnified raindrops slide slowly off umbrellas. The planet is projected on umbrellas as weather introduces ideas of ecosystems and climate change.
There are so many beautiful moments in this show, moments that show how much attention to detail this company has paid. Paper planes are crushed as they fly though the air. Story after story of chance, coincidence and narrow escapes have been collected. Facts that surprise:15 million trees destroyed by the storm. Projections that take your breath away – on umbrellas, on the polythene backdrop, even on cupped hands. Together it builds up to a powerful statement on how the weather impacts on our lives, but even more so about how in our very complicated human eco-system randomness and chaos play their part, but beyond this we all collectively share responsibility for one another.
Previous winners of Fringe First and Total Theatre Award, Idle Motion are a young company who work together to produce physical theatre through sharing stories and devise shows as an ensemble through workshops and improvisation. The Seagull Effect shows just how wonderfully well they can do this – they’re a company that’s well worth catching this time round, and next.