Borges and I
Devised by Paul Slater and the company
Idle Motion in association with New Diorama Theatre and Greenwich Theatre
New Diorama Theatre
From 19 June 2012 to 23 June 2012
Review by Howard Loxton
"God ... with such splendid irony, granted me books and blindness at one touch" wrote Jorges Luis Borges in one of his poems.
The Argentinean writer, best known for his short stories, was made director of the National Library in Buenos Aires at the time when he was becoming blind. This short play is partly his story, told in parallel with that of a pair of bookish young lovers, one of whom is going blind from the same condition of degenerative sight loss. It is also a sort of meditation about books that seems especially relevant in a borough that is closing libraries and when yet another electronic reader has just been launched. There is an added irony in that the performance is framed as a lecture on Borges using a PowerPoint presentation that goes wrong.
In a performance that lasts less than an hour, it gives only an outline of Borges's life and of the story of the young couple who encounter each other at a book group meeting but it does this in this company's signature delightful way with a mixture of text and physical theatre that has books falling like dominoes, fluttering as a flock of birds, coming together as an airliner or becoming the rocky road of life. They reveal the silhouetted memories of childhood, bear the poorly focused alphabets of opticians' charts or make up a tiger's stripes. Their ordering and their honouring sets of a lovers' tiff and the meetings of a book group from hell are a source of humour.
Typical of Idle Motion's style is the way in which as scene melts into scene Sophie and Nick (Sophie Cullen and Julian Spooner) are divested of layers of clothing by the other members of the company as the lovers get to know each other better and their intimacy increases, or the way Nicholas Pitt sheds or slowly reassumes his coat as he morphs from Borges into Nick's friend Jim and back again. Borges's fascination since his childhood with tigers is matched by Sophie's lasting affection for her copy of The Tiger who Came to Tea and, in Borges's blindness, an arm within a coat sleeve momentarily conjures up a huge feline paw.
Choreographed with precision and played with an intensity of feeling, it is an expression of what books can mean to us and at the same time mercilessly satirises the book group with its bossy convener (Kate Stanley) and banal discussions with Grace Chapman and Ellie Simpson as the other members and as the lecturer and an ophthalmologist. Each role is sharply characterised, but it is in the ensemble work, sometimes in slow motion, that this company is particularly effective. The fact that they perform in bare feet is perhaps an indication of the importance of the dance element in their work.
An earlier version of this production, with most of the same actors playing different roles, was nominated for a Total Theatre Award and successfully played at nearby Camden People's Theatre in 2011. This one will tour to Benenden Theatre, Cranbook 11 October, Pegasus, Oxford 19-20 October, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal 24 October, Greenwich Theatre 26-27 October, Mac Birmingham 29 October and Gulbenkian Canterbury 30 October 2012.