For comment upon paternalism, exploitation and culturally-sanctioned brigandage, Empty Space's latest show – about the Carter/Carnarvon exhumation of Tutankhamun's tomb – makes more telling points more subtly than Edward Bond (see separate review of The Fool). Tensions arise not only between the English excavators and their hosts (a short-lived democratic Egyptian government between periods of British colonial rule, who insist most damnably that the fabulous relics actually belong to their country), but in terms of class between the old-school aristo Lord Carnarvon and the more "plebeian" Howard Carter, a brilliant but obsessive archaeologist who dismisses the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works as "baboons" only to find that his interlocutor is the incognito Prime Minister.
As ever, Empty Space live up to the ideas implied in their name: the cast of four fill the playing area through breathtakingly versatile use of a few simple props (drapes, a couple of chairs, a walking-stick) and augment Richard Heacock's evocative score with proficient vocalise. In an instant time melts and the ailing Carnarvon becomes the mummified Pharaoh, a draped chair transforms into an ornate ceremonial artefact. They even manage to get away with the line, "You mean it's... eaten the budgie?" Intelligently written and staged, and too intelligent to be entirely earnest, this play encapsulates why you should get to know Empty Space.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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