Deep Time Cabaret

Horse + Bamboo
Suspense London Puppetry Festival
Rosemary Branch Theatre
(2009)

Production photo

Deep Time Cabaret is a collection of sketches and stories using a range of media to deliver a timely message about our lack of care for our planet; inspired by the ex-mining landscape of the creators' Lancashire base something personal and local is used to say something bigger.

The 'deep time' of the title refers to the concept astronomers use to measure the life cycle of planets and it reflects Horse + Bamboo's ambitious intentions to say something about the universe and what we are doing in it. There is much focus with the matter of earth itself: how it was formed and what we have done with it. It's not an innately entertaining topic but an amusing and instructive demonstration of geological formation using sliced bread and pieces of cake works really well, in contrast to a film section hinting at ethereal life haunting disused quarries which does not justify its length.

The recurring focus on the substance of the earth and our pillaging of it seems to be at the expense of considering other splendours of our planet such as great lakes and forests but with a subject as huge as the universe, some things are inevitably going to be omitted. The more earth-bound factual content however is balanced by the formation of the milky way being explained through a Greek myth involving an affair between god Zeus and mortal Alcmene, which introduces the idea of there being something magical and accidental about it all.

There are also clear reminders about local traditions and poignant moments involving love, life and death bringing us back to the smaller scale. Displaying notable restraint, the piece does not criticise or seek to defend those whose actions have brought the planet to its current state. With a cornucopia of images and sounds we are invited to consider from a beginning of "only darkness ... why are we here? where did we come from?"

Deep Time Cabaret is more stimulating and evocative visually than it is with its use of the spoken word which has a less thought-through feel - the proposition that we would not take stars for granted if they only appeared in the sky every millennia is light-weight since it is a notion that could be applied to any number of natural and unnatural phenomena, and people stay in and watch TV ignoring things both trivial and of consequence every night. Similarly, the closing commentary that 'money can be found to bail out banks but ... ' may have topicality but is an over simplification that fails to address certain realities about what is local, what is national and what is global.

Horse + Bamboo's approach is experimental and highly inventive. The primary impact is visual but behind it lies a natural predilection for combining sound, music and physical theatre to create effect, provoke thought and reinforce the theme of the piece. The variety of techniques exploited in the storytelling is a credit to the talents of the company and although the feast of metaphors is such that not everyone will engage with all of them, they ask the big questions with a light humour and without imposing any answers.

"Deep Time Cabaret" appeared as part of the Suspense London Puppetry Festival and is now touring

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti