Above Me the Wide Blue Sky
David Harradine & Sam Butler
The Young Vic
Part performance, part installation and unfortunately only part good.
The problem for Above Me the Wide Blue Sky is that it is, in its current format, both too long and too short. The performance lasts just over 45 minutes, which would, under normal circumstances, be very short for a piece of theatre. But in an environment where the audience is not free to come and go as they choose, as may be more common for an art installation, it becomes hard work.
Fevered Sleep’s new piece is set in-the-round with the performance taking place on a stage of white stone cobbles. Smart, modern domestic lamps protrude from the floor of the stage creating a sort of sparsely-populated forest of lights. The four sides of the auditorium meanwhile are adorned with giant video screens showing the different moods and seasons of the sky.
Before the actual "performance" begins, the audience is free to come and go as they choose, and it is perhaps here that the piece is at its most powerful. The soundscape is a very relaxing, lightly-musical collection of notes and chords, whilst the screens show lightly-clouded blue skies and three old-fashioned film projectors whir away projecting looped footage of water onto three upturned cobbles. It is melancholic, peaceful and yet slightly unnerving. In this space, thoughts meander from peaceful to questioning to uneasy and back again.
When the performance itself begins, Laura Cubitt takes the stage with Leuca, her dog. Cubitt smiles at the audience catching their eyes before asking Leuca to lie down on a bed, something she diligently maintains for the next 45 minutes. Cubitt, after a long time, begins to speak, listing all sorts of images and details of things found in the world around us: a pigeon, a rabbit and the sky.
The images get more and more detailed until, after fifteen minutes or so, the storytelling begins to invoke the first person. Cubitt talks of the field she remembers from her childhood, the field next to that and on through streams and country afternoons. Finally she begins to remember things that used to be. 'I remember' she says before every new picture she paints, some of which re-occur as echoes of where the night began.
Above Me the Wide Blue Sky is very much concerned with memory and, as artistic director David Harradine says in his programme notes, the way in which we are all deeply affected by the environment in which we live. Even when we don't really know it, humans are always, to a lesser and more often than not greater degree, something of a product of their environment. At its best, the piece engages its viewer on those notions of the world and nature that surrounds them whilst at its worst it loses the audience's attention, losing some to a daydream, a nap or even, in one case, a book.
It is of course possible to suggest that as part installation, Above Me the Wide Blue Sky doesn’t need to demand the attention of its audience all the time, that if it encourages the viewers to wander back through their own childhoods and interactions with nature then the piece is doing its job. But it isn’t just an art installation, it is in a theatre, and as theatre it isn’t such a success.
Reviewer: Alisdair Hinton