Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Physical theatre in which an American soldier encounters three little boys in a bombed out village in France during WWII. Visually pleasing and charmingly funny.
In war torn Second World War France an American soldier comes across three small boys in a bombed out village. They are the only survivors and they pass the time playing war games among the ruins with wooden guns, defending the village as best they can. Gradually the soldier befriends them enough to allow him to take their picture on his camera and join in their games.
Many years later, three researchers from a group called Nataero (named after the Roman god of lost things) uncover the soldier’s camera with the film miraculously intact. They contact the soldier’s grandson before developing the film and together the four begin to piece together the story of the soldier and the three little boys in the photographs.
Using a mixture of physical theatre and spoken word, Rhum and Clay Theatre Company skilfully conjure up the world behind the images. The three performers brilliantly convey the boys’ emotions through a range of exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, capturing their combination of fear, curiosity and bravado.
The scenes are expertly choreographed for maximum visual effect, with the three boys moving to their vantage points among the ruins holding wooden guns to defend themselves and striking different poses for the camera.
The well-designed minimalist set is suggestive of a few broken tiles on shards of bombed out buildings and the outfits too, reminiscent of thermal underwear, one in beige, one khaki and one red, strike just the right note. They make the boys appear partially dressed, suggesting their poverty and abandonment, but at the same time the outfits look a little like a soldier’s uniform.
The boys communicate through a range of noises, bangs and clicks, provided by the actors and a live soundtrack from musician Laila Woozeer. As the American soldier tries to speak to the children this complete wordlessness highlights the language barrier and the helplessness of their situation. They are powerless and alone and without a voice. It also suggests that they may have seen things that they can only express through action.
In contrast to this the world of the researchers is a world of speech and it lacks some of the magic of the world of the photographs. In the present day the actors fall into easy stereotypes – the mad English researchers and the patriotic American – and the dialogue feels a little contrived.
The two worlds begin completely separate, a flash of light from the camera and the bare bulb of the lab signalling the transition between them, but as the researchers learn more about the photographs the two begin to merge. Finally the actors change costumes between characters on the stage, which seems a pity, as it breaks the illusion.
Such subject matter could feel heavy, but treated with a mixture of mime, slapstick and playfulness the effect is hilarious. One little boy injures his finger and it is bandaged up, not only around the wound, but with his whole finger tied to his face, strips of cloth are turned into pretend parachutes and a chest of drawers is transformed into an incredible flying machine.
A Strange Wild Song is a very special play, visually pleasing and charmingly funny. An accomplished piece of physical theatre from the young pretenders to the Jacques Lecoq crown.