Edinburgh Fringe 2019
“Bali tiger. Dusky seaside sparrow. Cinnamon-coloured cryptic treehunter. Psychedelic rock gecko. Fire millipede from Hell… One human. Twenty-six thousand animals. A wildly intimate, interspecies meditation on mass animal disappearance. “
A man sits silently on a box downstage with his back to the audience. A large screen on the huge wall behind projects names of flora and fauna. This seems simple enough, however, as time goes by, the story creeps up on you and draws you in like you never expected.
Tom Bailey performs and directs this new show from award-winning Bristol-based theatre company Mechanimal. The same company produced Zugunruhe, performed and created by Bailey at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and went on to a UK and international tour, to great acclaim.
If it takes a while to know what is happening in Vigil do not fear because Bailey is very clear in where he wants to take you and why. His physical storytelling journey is delicate and supremely important, and this writer is still thinking about the provocative performance and its impact.
Bailey moves slowly when the names of species are silently shown on the screen: Snow Trout, Clearwing, Tajikistan Even-Fingered Gecko, Waterfall Swift…
One limb at a time, Bailey pensively raises an arm, a leg or his head as if remembering – or rather imagining, what each of these animals look like and how they move. Then he ceases to be human for a few moments and becomes the essence of a creature. The Laughing Owl shrieks and looks at us with a witty stare!
Occasionally Bailey balances on one leg, or kneels down on all fours such as for the Persian Musk Deer, which turns his head and surveys us. Next he reassembles his physicality to become an exotic type of coral swaying to and fro languidly in the sea, with mouth opening and hoping that nutrition will swim inside.
The names that Vigil lists are animals and plants on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of extinct and threatened species, this is the most accurate record available of at least 26,000 such species – and that does not even include the vast and unknown amount of vanishing species. The facts are chilling and realising what is gently set before you with such elegance and care makes the haunting message so meaningful.
Bailey is an expert physical storyteller with finely attuned movement quality (Movement and Dramaturgy by Philippa Hamble). He has great moments of subtlety when he plays, through an animal – to the audience, which often brings humour.
Recorded sound of the click of a slide changing in a projector adds rhythm and pacing to the performance, when bailey transitions to a new creature. Other sounds include birdsong, insects, music, voiceover and Bailey addresses us, barefoot, wearing ordinary clothes about the devastation of vanishing species.
The imaginative structure of this devised show builds in a masterful way and the final denouement is dramatic, unexpected and moving. Vigil is a fascinating devised show based on facts that enlightens with emotional impact, Highly Recommended!