The Catastrophe Trilogy

Lone Twin Theatre
Barbican Pit

Production photo

With what is described as a 'playful interest in the act of storytelling', Lone Twin Theatre presents three plays united under the umbrella of catastrophe. How we define catastrophe is ever-changing and ultimately leaves the viewer questioning what is catastrophic in our lives.

All three pieces are performed in traverse, with a different vividly coloured floor for each piece. An international ensemble of five performers, the actors take different roles, sing, dance, strum ukuleles, and address the audience throughout the pieces. Indeed, it is this flat-toned reportage style delivery that marks out the production, as well as unites the pieces. While it may jar on the ear at first, we soon become accustomed, and it presents a uniquely reflective experience for the viewer. Like the surface of a mirror, the stories only return the patterns of your solitary imagination, rather than doing the work for you. The sparse stage, unadorned clothing and minimal props of this production offer nothing for the all singing, all dancing spectacle lover. This is Brechtian theatre, done, as it were, to example.

With such a bold statement in the form, the stories themselves ultimately come under scrutiny. First we see Alice Bell, which recounts the story of a fictional woman who gives up her identity and crosses the divide between two warring factions to be with the man she loves. Finally it is her life that must be sacrificed, as the catastrophe unfolds.

The theme of sacrifice, or, more precisely, self-sacrifice is carried into the second piece, Daniel Hit By A Train, which was inspired by the George Fredric Watt's memorial which recounts the everyman stories of members of the public who, without thinking, have sacrificed their life trying to save others. With 53 stories to inspire them, the company count them down, group them, sing them, play out individuals and find small physical motifs for their deaths.

Finally, the trilogy ends with the effervescent The Festival, which provides a much more mundane but potentially personally painful portrayal of catastrophe. A woman and a man meet at a festival in Australia and plan to return and meet again the next year. Circumstances change for one of them, but it does not for the other. Their two lives meet and separate and we, the audience, are treated to the songs that accompanied that story along the way.

As a whole the three pieces make a profound effect on reflection for the viewer in the exercise of storytelling, and Lone Twin's performers are indeed masters of the simply told, simple story. Small moments of things like the mother's dance in The Festival, the company's group side step away from Nicholas in Alice Bell, and the 'weeds' section of repetitive steps in Daniel Hit By A Train, are told with such purity of understated expression that they will remain with you long after you've left the theatre. But what's odd is the hypnotic pace of the reportage storytelling which almost haunts the viewer with its deadpan expression. It is both brilliant and monotonous.

However the company really shine with some spine tingling moments in their songs. The beauty, the brevity and the essence of these songs are both laugh-out-loud delightful and hauntingly painful. When you learn that the directors and creators of Lone Twin Theatre (Greg Whelan and Gary Winters) have written for children in the past, you will see some of the power and simplicity in their story-telling techniques. This childish playfulness is most evident in The Festival.

However the three pieces, while similar in style, create a long day of theatre, and all stand alone as separate pieces, perhaps better viewed separately than all in one day. Having seen all three I would have to recommend each different piece to different friends. Ultimately the second piece struggles the most for its lack of a single unifying narrative, even though the essence of the piece is a theme of unthinking self-sacrifice. Daniel Hit By A Train does become something of an exercise in repetition. And the simple (some might say cheap!) comedy of The Festival, while delightful, lacks the driving force of a really profound story, and suggests something of a work in progress, rather than a finished piece.

It is Alice Bell that stands out, and if you were only to see one of these arresting exercises in story-telling, this is the piece to see. 'You will change your heart,' she tells us, and with this strong story and astounding style, that is what the company are able to do to us. Both aggressive and touching, explosive and explorative, this is a fascinating, powerful piece that leaves you thirsty for more of Lone Twin's beguiling story telling. As a theatre company, they have only been in production for four years, and Alice Bell is one of their longest developed pieces, and it shows.

Meanwhile huge praise must go to the performers, Antoine Fraval, Guy Dartnell, Molly Haslund, Nina Tecklenburg and Paul Gazzola who all have nothing but astounding presence, style and a fantastic grace and equality in working with each other. Lone Twin are textbook Brechtian in the unanimity of harmony and balance between the performers in their working relationships that their seamless stage presences really are exemplary to us all.

Reviewer: Sacha Voit

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