The World in Pictures
Conceived and devised by the company
Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring
The World in Pictures is co-produced by Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (Berlin), Wiener Festwochen, Les Spectacles vivants Centre Pompidou (Paris), Productiehuis Rotterdam (Rotterdamse Schouwburg), Kunstencentrum Vooruit (Gent), and in the UK by Nuffield Theatre (Lancaster), Tramway (Glasgow), Warwick Arts Centre, alongside Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment
It's important to know this, because what we have here is more European than British in form and style: where, in Britain, text is supreme, here it shares equal (or even lesser) billing with visual imagery (both on computer screen and on stage) and (very loud) music and sound. Take all of the latter away from the normal piece of British theatre, leaving just the text, and you still have a play: take them away from The World in Pictures and you have nothing very much. All need to be there.
The World in Pictures tells the story of mankind from cavmen to the present day, but it begins unexpectedly: one actor (Jerry Killick) takes centre-stage whilst the rest of the company give him advice, each subtley (or not so subtley) undermining his confidence. This subversion becomes a key ingredient of the piece as, throughout, it continually subverts itself, theatrical conventions and even its own seriousness.
Killick then launches into a long, quietly spoken monologue in which he leads the audience (it's always "you", never first or third person) along a walk through a half-known city, gently leading us to jumping off the top of a high building. Then the mayhem begins: using cobbled together costumes, bad wigs, a couple of space heaters (the discovery of fire), free standing flats, a laptop computer (and internet porn and Google), a selection of tools, picnic chairs, a sofa, and much more, we are given a child's picture book tour of the history of the world at breakneck speed (cavemen, urbanisation, the Greeks, the Romans, the Dark Ages, the Black Death, the Age of Reason, Industrialisation, the aewrs of the twentieth century), accompanied by a narration which varies from the shallowly informative to the dismissive ("Blah, bah, blah, and other stuff..."). Except that it was more a tour of the history of Europe with the rest of the world being dimissed - "and stuff was happening in Japan..."
And we end up with Jerry Killick again, this time taking us on a journey into the future when we will be forgotten and even records of our existence wiped out.
At times funny, at times frankly boring (some scenes go on far too long, but, again, that's part of the subversion of the form), it leaves us, at the end of slightly under two hours (no interval), a little bemused and at times amused but with something to think about.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan