Reykjavik

Jonathan Young
Shams
The Albany
(2011)

Publicity photo

Inventivenes is a core part of Reykjavik. But inventiveness is a bit of a double edged term: it needs to be an inventiveness that goes somewhere, inventivness that gives. And Reykjavik, a play about the memory of a failed relationship, gives both too much and too little.

Jonathan Young followed his girlfriend S to Iceland, tried to make a life there while not looking back. He revisits this memory with us, the audience decked out in forensic white suits, walking and talking us through an ever changing set as he relives and so tries to make sense of his past.

And how do you show the inside of someone's past? The past here is a foreign country we're invited to visit as explorers in a constantly shifting white space, with Jonathan as our wide eyed and neatly haggard guide.

There are certainly sides to his story that could only be really shown through immersion, such as where the audience puts on blurring goggles to 'see' the arctic lights.

Yet mostly it's about Jonathan, about how to escape the past and the patterns it creates, about living in a foreign culture and how the past always becomes foreign while inescapable.

And the audience almost doesn't fit in. Here, while the set design is very inventive with some absolutely stellar scenes, such as the opening with the audience starring into a cloth curtain light show, the audience members are often more spectators without a chair than active chorus.

For while there's lots of movement and even a little dance scene, real immersion is never quite reached. Some of the participation moments are a touch token and there's a suspicion that not much would have been lost if this had been put on a more traditional stage.

Where Reykjavik is at its strongest is in its subtle use of imagery and its touchingly delicate atmosphere. Multi-layered is only half of it: personal memories are incredibly difficult to get right and here, with its use of metaphor, fragments, patterning and emotional honesty, there is a sense of real, of being authentically lived.

These lived moments are more presented to than lived by the audience. One brilliant joke near the beginning was the setting up of a 'museum' of an apartment clutter of shoes, dresses and even a kitchen sink and this play never quite escapes this museum exhibit-like feel.

Incredibly impressive in itself, daring in its approach with an underlying tenderness, nonetheless as an audience member, in Reykjavik you see more than you share.

"Reykjavik" will be playing at The Albany until 14th May. It will then tour in Birmingham, Stockton and Manchester

Reviewer: Tobias Chapple