The Adventures of the Stoneheads
NT and Trestle Theatre at the Lyttelton
It is most unusual to see pure physical theatre on large stages. The Lyttelton's Transformation season is aimed at relatively young non-theatregoers and allows audiences to experience different theatrical genres. The Adventures of the Stoneheads has no dialogue and the characters wear masks (designed by director/writer Toby Wilsher and Russell Dean) that create an immediate impression.
The masks look like a combination of It's a Knockout, Sesame Street and Paula Rego's more outlandish creations and are an integral part of the production. They can be witty in themselves and the actors often have such impressive body language that you would swear that the inflexible faces change expression.
The Stoneheads are immigrants who arrive in Britain from the sea. Whether they originate in Outer Space, the Commonwealth or Eastern Europe is unclear. The treatment that they receive from their hosts is universally terrifying. This applies equally to kids out for a laugh, the police and the locals at a pub, not to mention the occupants of the kinkiest sex-club outside a Mark Ravenhill play.
There is also allusion to other types of drama. The Orpheus story is repeated in a strangely moving adaptation. There is also a general slowness of rhythm and odd feel that suggests the influence of drugs but could as easily represent the disorientation of the Stoneheads as they arrive in a new land.
The visitors are robbed of all wealth and dignity. It is very clear that Toby Wilsher and the company who together devised this performance have little faith in our liberal society to welcome outsiders.
All of this is humorous and assisted by the fantastic masks and good acting, This is at its best especially from Lisa Hammond as Pook, the little girl on whom everyone dotes, and Alan Riley as the medically-trained patriarch, Milan. Sadly, he cannot get a job and is eventually sent to prison, then reduced to begging. This is literally a great effort from all as the actors spend almost two hours on stage almost without a break under heavy masks and built up costumes.
It is inevitable that, despite the assistance of a pair of outlandish twitchers, the only way that the immigrants will achieve happiness is by returning whence they came. The message that Trestle is trying to convey would appear to be that this is a very acceptable political solution in the current climate.
With a combination of short vignettes to hold the atention and some great wit, the play manages to make some very serious dramatic and political points.
This is most unusual theatre of a kind that is more commonly seen on the fringe. It may be some time until anything similar is seen on a major stage again. For those who enjoy physical theatre or are curious, this is drama of a very high standard.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
The Adentures of the Stoneheads continues until 13th July.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher