Image by Alex Brenner
“The piece meanders between the couples’ experience of youth and old age, a personal tragedy, the war and a daily routine that proves hard to break when he is left alone.”
A Fringe hit in 2011 and 2012, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise has since travelled the globe, appearing everywhere from Colombia to Croatia. Last week, as part of its national tour, it swept into Edinburgh’s familiar surroundings once more.
The production’s global reach is testament to its wonderfully universal nature. The subject matter – the difficulties of losing a loved one – is one that everyone, regardless of culture, status or age, can relate to in their own way, and the delivery of this narrative entirely in mime ensures language is no barrier. Using such a universal story and no spoken word creates a space for each audience member to project their own story, their own experience of loss, onto the characters – leading to a very personal experience and not a few emotional sniffs.
Whilst this is a strength in one respect, in another it leads to a fairly predictable, if touching, story arc: we watch as a man in his twilight years struggles to adjust to daily life after his wife of many years passes away – though her spirit remains, intervening, to help her pained husband move forward. The piece meanders between the couples’ experience of youth and old age, a personal tragedy, the war and a daily routine that proves hard to break when he is left alone.
To illustrate the jumps between youth and old age, the cast employ the use of masks. Initially, these are incredibly effective, Michael Sharman (William, the husband) and Deborah Pugh (Rose, the wife) incorporate them seamlessly into their fantastically crumpled and stiff physicalities, complete with the soundscape of old age: the sighs, strains and the hrumphs. However, as the story progresses the masks begin to hinder rather than help. Once they have been removed once or twice we lose the illusion that they are part of the actors, and increasingly become aware that there is a face behind them, that they are actors playing a character – which could easily have been forgotten in the opening sequence. Moreover, the actors’ faces are so lively and full of expression that when the masks return you become acutely aware of just how much they limit expression, stuck as they are in one position. This became a particular problem in sadder moments as the female mask seems to contain just a hint of a smile.
Accompanying the actors is Kim Heron, who brings her haunting vocals, Yann Tiersen-esque accordion playing and a crucial pair of hands to the production (having actors limited to just one hand while the other holds the mask makes carrying and staging quite tricky. Luckily, Heron’s knack for multitasking – simultaneously singing, playing the accordion and carrying props around for the actors – helps keep the production moving). The accompaniment is beautiful and effectively highlights the mood and period of a scene, for instance using war time classics such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. However, its continuous use and somewhat samey feel means it loses effect. By the time the final moments arrive, where a well-placed accompaniment could convert a few sniffs to flowing tears and a much greater emotional climax, it is so familiar that it lacks the impact it could so easily have.
At the moment Translunar Paradise errs on the slower, more drawn out side –not helped by the predictability of the story. However, it is also a warming, gentle piece of theatre, with interesting staging, a lovely universality to it and the potential to do even more.