Wednesday 24 January 2018

Theatre Review: Translunar Paradise at The Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath

The tide of grief unleashed by the loss of a beloved partner is tenderly explored in Theatre Ad Infinitum’s achingly evocative Translunar Paradise.

First shown to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 and having garnered a raft of awards in the intervening years, this performance at the Ustinov kicks off the production’s 2018 UK tour.

Told entirely without words and using astonishingly expressive hand-held masks to portray their older selves, original performers George Mann (who also directs the piece) and Deborah Pugh recreate the intertwined lives of William and Rose. Here the personal triumphs and tragedies weathered over their many years together are laid bare, within the poignant framework of William’s inability to let go of his past life after Rose’s illness and death.

The power of this mime emerges in exquisitely realised moments of detail: the habitual setting out of two cups for tea when only one is now needed, the tapping of a finger melding into the ticking of a clock, the suitcase carrying life’s load transferred between partners, the scent of a handkerchief and caress of an abandoned scarf.

The story plays out against actor-musician Sophie Crawford’s haunting soundtrack of accordion and vocals. Much more than a bystander, she is the third storyteller on stage; circling to hold masks in position as William and Rose’s younger selves emerge, setting the teapot and cups on the table, creating heightened moments of silence and pressing air through the accordion to create a mournful sigh as the couple resume their masks of age.

Props are minimal, centred around two chairs and a table that folds out to become a hospital bed. The space is filled instead with the actors’ faultlessly timed movement and fluid transitions; their youthful dancing and the joy of falling in love, the pain of Rose’s pregnancy and William’s experiences of war, their older selves slowing down and shuffling around the furniture. Such choreography is a trademark of Mann’s direction, used to great effect in previous productions such as Pink Mist.

The era and narrative of William and Rose’s earlier life is occasionally unclear, their experiences not so much thought-provoking as profoundly felt. Most moving of all is that Rose’s ephemeral self is still so strongly present. Determined to lead him out of his grief, she stays close to William after death, yet as he repeatedly reaches out for her, he finds she is beyond his grasp.

Originally devised in response to Mann’s experiences as his father was dying of lung cancer, Translunar Paradise is an experiential and immersive piece. In the emotionally charged switching between past and present, what emerges beyond simple nostalgia is the universal grief and pain of loss; not only for a long-term partner, but also a younger self and a shared life that once held all its promise before it. 

Reviewed on 23 January 2018 as part of a UK tour | Images: Alex Brenner

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