Friday, June 21, 2013

 Vienna in 1913 was no place for a prophet, the programme asserts, and The Last Days of Mankind at Bristol Old Vic proves it. Written by political editor Karl Kraus as a satiric commentary using news footage and verbatim dialogue, the original version contained over a hundred characters and would have taken hours to perform, but this collaboration between BOV and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School explores the essence of the play with just 26 actors in a show of dazzling energy which blends absurdity and accuracy in scathing and unforgettable comi-tragedy.  Despite the cull, co-adapters Toby Hulse and John Retallack (who also directed) added two additional characters: the playwright's optimistic lover Sidi and Karl himself, to predict throughout and give the final verdict: Now we have no need of God, Mankind has the power to bring about its own destruction.  The device works really well ~ but I love a meta-theatrical play so I would think that wouldn't I ~  and holds together a variety of disparate scenes.  Alongside the Viennese waltzing cafe life of the socialites there's BlackAdderish comedy about the callous arrogance of the General, and an increasingly brutal press to prove the worst casualty of the war is truth.... Stage design, including backdrop, props and lighting too, is especially effective in scenes eerily evocative of Paul Nash WWI paintings. Most powerful sequence is the haunting nightmare of the catatonic last-living soldier, in a Guernica-like montage that culminates in Austria giving birth to a goosestepping soldier with a Hitler moustache while the Church hands out helmets and the blinkered socialites of Vienna gnaw on their pet pekinese.  The entire ensemble cast were all amazing but I have to pick out Darren Seed, simply superb in the largely silent role of the Simple Soldier who enlists as a clownish patriot and morphs into sombre visionary and victim.  It's on for another week, do see it if you can, if only to say you saw tomorrows' stars when they were tiny twinkles.

Maggie, written by Eleanor Blaney, is a tale of pre-wedding nerves mingling nostalgic memories with apprehension, and cake-size slices of existential angst. With echoes of Sliding Doors, Maggie wonders why we look for someone 'meant' to be our partner: "If they weren't ours they'd be someone else's!" An hour is a long time to sustain a reverie without interaction, especially when directed at points onstage rather than to audience, so director Emel Yilmaz has decorated each slice of the story in playful activity to recreate Maggie's emotional confusion. The solo role is endearingly acted by Daisy Dugmore with Debi Moore making a brief appearance as the mother, and the Changing-Rooms-inspired set by Sarah Warren is delightful - and weren't we all relieved when Maggie tugs off her Andrew-Aguecheek hairpiece to be herself and 'just do what I can.'  Her pragmatic decision brings resolution, but as living together before getting married statistically increases chances of divorce by 40%, I'd give it a year.


Art Duncan said...

Your reviews chasten my paltry efforts. Do you write for Remotegoat - or the Grauniad???

I shall now slink away to study your superbly knowledgeable & economic lines - or I'll never dare write again. Well done, as usual.
Best wishes ever.

(Remotely connected to Goatish reviewing)

Crysse said...

You're very kind. I shall now take a look through Goatish reviews and see how frequently we concur. Or otherwise!