Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 9 September, 2011
The simplest, and in some ways the purest, form of theatre is little more than storytelling: one performer, or a handful, appearing in front of an audience, with minimal equipment, recounting a tale and periodically becoming characters therein; not attempting to create or re-create people, settings, moods, but simply to evoke them momentarily. We, as viewers, do not suspend our disbelief in such a way as to identify with or enter the action; rather, we grant our attention and delight for as long as the story requires and we consent. It is a form that was seminally rediscovered for British theatre by Peter Brook, and whose next major exponents were Complicité. Both remain active today, of course, as do various of their alumni, such as Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni, the principal parties in this current enterprise.
Magni directs and is also amongst the cast of, to be most scrupulous, four and a half: Tunde Jegede joins the action at times, but more often accompanies it musically, for the most part on cello or kora. The bulk of the dramatic performance is undertaken by Magni, Hunter, Patrice Naiambana and David Bartholomew Soroczynski. That company already constitutes an international melting pot, even before one adds the content: short stories written by Gilles Aufray based on material from India, Africa and Japan more than his native France. The two main tales concern a kidney transplant in 21st-century France and a spat between friends in mythical Africa; the title is derived from a story about the quest for Truth, who in this case is personified.
With most of these performers, we know already how talented they are; interestingly, the most exuberant and playful on this occasion is not Magni, who has extensive form in this area, but Naiambana, who seems liberated from the constraints of his more conventional projects. The crux, then, is simply a question of how persuasive we find them in requesting our interest and enjoyment, and how willing we are to give it. It must be acknowledged that other factors bear on this, such as the comfort of the venue: 100 uninterrupted minutes on lumbar-unfriendly seats in the late-summer heat and airlessness of the Arcola’s smaller studio space make the deal significantly less attractive. But the performance just about wins out.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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