What I Heard About the World
mala voadora and Third Angel
Crucible Studio, Sheffield
What I Heard About the World arises from a collaboration between the Lisbon- based theatre company, mala voadora (flying suitcase), which explores 'contemporary social issues and the nature of theatre and spectacle'; and the Sheffield-based performance company, Third Angel, which produces work 'across the territories of theatre' to include live art, film, video and photography.
On a small, crowded set, reminiscent of a student bed-sit, three actors engage with current important global issues, using narratives drawn from a variety of sources and from all corners of the globe. In the course of a short evening we are invited to consider global warming, the trafficking of women, hijacking, self-administered breast surgery by means of the internet, and massacre - a rich cornucopia in just over an hour. On an odder note, we hear about a silent radio in Israel and a donkey painted to look like a zebra in North Korea. The apparently cohering factor in this disparate range of narratives is that each could have happened anywhere. So we can't afford to be smug!
The programme note, talking about the genesis of the piece, tells us that 'the thing these stories had in common was that they were fakes: replacements, stand-ins, substitutions'. With the exception of the donkey masquerading as a zebra, I am afraid this comment passed me by. In mala voadora's profile the name Brecht is evoked in a somewhat incomprehensible reference (lost in translation or from lack of punctuation). I am not sure how 'The decisive in politics not individual thought' relates to 'the art of thinking what is in the heads of other people'.
The structure of the production was reminiscent of Brecht: episodes punctuated by songs; narrative with inclusive enactment; representational props; pictures drawn as we watched. But there was much more from a more recent performance tradition that I found entrancing. I was mesmerised by the visual images that accompanied the words: the pouring of salt into the glass to represent sea water; the toy aeroplane that ended in the drink; the cling film wrapping of the set towards the end (a practical reason for this) but nevertheless a theatrical and spectacular event, which was fascinating to watch and evoked all sorts of metaphoric possibilities.
There is no doubt about the commitment and sincerity of the performers, who were also integral to the devising process. I was impressed by Jorge Andrade's strength through stillness on stage; by Alex Kelly's musicality and control of events and by Chris Thorpe, who was strong in a variety of roles. I would urge this company to re-think its programme. Maybe it was cobbled together in haste from existing copy. It would be much more interesting to read their reflections on the show they have put together, rather than information about the contributing companies.
The programme note describes this as a 'project' and as such it should be of considerable interest to drama students at whatever level. As for people with strong political convictions, maybe the over-inclusiveness of this show, with its dilution of particular interests, will prove a bit bland. There is nothing quite as strong as Brecht's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich: episodic but dramatic, and well focused on a single issue - the rise of National Socialism. That was also a collaborative effort.
"What I Heard About the World" continues at the Crucible Studio until 30th October.
Reviewer: Velda Harris