From an original idea by Foster and Déchery, devised by the Company
Corn Exchange, Newbury, and touring
Commissioned by the Corn Exchange Newbury, Epic by the writers Foster and Déchery received its premiere at New Greenham Arts, the studio space of the Corn Exchange.
The play asks some fundamental questions about the impact that history has on our lives, not just the big events like World Wars but the personal relationships that tie us all to the century.
The four versatile actors - Chloé Déchery, Lucy Foster, Edward Rapley and Pedro Ines - track down their families' roots and slowly reveal the intriguing and fascinating memories from their pasts.
Using clever multimedia and film that are projected onto moving screens, we literally meet the actor's relatives. They talk to us as if in an interview with the actors interacting with the images as if they were with us in person, a very imaginative concept that worked exceedingly well.
We meet Chloé's grandfather who was in Paris during the Second World War and joined the free French army and poignantly shares his experiences with his granddaughter on stage. The family were also caught up in colonialism in Cameroon and the student riots of May 1968 in Paris.
Jim relates his story about the struggle that the miners faced in the north during the Maggie Thatcher years. They were fraught times with the intensity of the strikes and union leader Arthur Scargill manning the picket lines. Then came the humiliation when some miners could no longer cope and became 'scabs' and returned to work.
As these personal stories are retold you are drawn into the intimacy of it all as the audience shared their precious moments.
There is also a playful Pythonesque tomfoolery with songs and dance that brings a fine element of comedy to the piece. Even Bertolt Brecht makes a cameo appearance, all very unemotional yet funny.
There is a moving account of a grandfather who was torpedoed whilst serving in the navy at the close of World War 2 and the heartfelt story of a Turkish grandmother who was visiting Istanbul in search of the country's small Jewish community and her roots.
Perhaps the most moving story came from a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's and desperate to record her memories before they were all forgotten. As one of the actors said of his grandmother, she is "the call centre of our family life."
Martin Langthorne's dramatic lighting and Bob Karper's sound design perfectly complemented the action and Ian William Galloway's video design was ingenious.
Epic gave a fascinating insight into families' history and is all made more heart-rending since these are real living people. It is a timely reminder to us both to connect to and collect our own histories before they are lost forever. Engaging theatre.
Tours to Exeter Phoenix (10th May), Tobacco Factory Bristol (11th to 12th May), Greenroom Manchester (13th May),The Carriageworks Leeds (17th May), Soho Theatre London (26th to 28th May), Dartington (1st June), North Wall Oxford (2nd June), Pulse Festival Ipswich (5th June) and Colchester Arts Centre (9th June).
Reviewer: Robin Strapp