A Strange Wild Song

Rhum and Clay

South Street Arts Centre

On 05 May 2015

Review by Liz Allum

This relatively new troupe of Lecoq trained physical theatre performers have, much as their protagonist, stumbled upon an interesting true story that forms inspiration for this piece.

The real story draws from a Belgian photographer who befriended a group of street children in Paris in 1915 who had formed their own pretend army. His photographs of the children form the basis for Rhum and Clay’s narrative. The photographer becomes a soldier who has abandoned his battalion, the children become orphans in an allied bombed town in the south of France.

Through charming play and slapstick humour, the three child characters play at war. Humour is interrupted with the sound of distant shelling and their games are tinged with poignancy through the reality of their situation.

Some of the physical sequences are well crafted, a plane in the form of a chest of drawers shakes and splutters into the sky for an entertaining flight of imagination in the mind of its young pilot, rudely broken by a nearby bomb falling.

Simple set devices are used to switch between the worlds of the abandoned French village, and an archaeologists’ office, in which a relative of the solider is trying to uncover the secrets in the photographs that the found camera has unlocked. These photographs feel as if they should be central to the story, fragments of a lost past, and the potential to project them, to bring the faces of the children to life, perhaps even using the real photographs, is missed here.

Live music accompanying the performance has some pleasing elements, the use of breath and looping to recreate the distant sound of warfare is effective.

Although the pace is varied, the piece does feel long. It was originally created for Edinburgh to a stricter one-hour time limit and I wonder if this restriction might have facilitated a tighter narrative, stripping away some of the superfluous scenes.

The juxtaposition of childish innocence and play in the face of brutal war is a poignant technique. Playing at death reminds us of the reality that is creeping up around the children and their new friend. The soldier character is re-humanised by the solidarity and charm of the children, by their determination to stay put, by their friendship and their acceptance of him in their family. He becomes a father figure, and cannot leave them.

Ultimately, it is the genuine affection that the performers seem to carry for their characters and for the story that makes this an endearing performance.