“an admirable sincerity”
Presented as part of Manipulate, a week-long festival of visual theatre, Grit is an earnest analysis of how children around the world are affected by war. Well-regarded by critics during 2012’s Edinburgh Fringe, it views this biggest of topics through a close-up lens – using a war photographer’s diary to frame the story, and drawing occasional parallels with his own life at home.
The tale’s told through a mix of puppetry, projection, and shadow-play – a combination of techniques which occasionally feels overwhelming, but in the end comes together remarkably well. It’s not the most original of styles, but there are some creative details to enjoy: an especially powerful projected sequence cleverly brings just parts of an image into focus, picking out first a ruined building, then a man cradling a child.
But if the presentation’s deft, the storytelling’s clumsy. Exposition comes courtesy of a pre-recorded voiceover, which very definitely tells-not-shows the photographer’s reactions to the horrors that he’s seen. It’s desperately unsubtle, and oddly uncompelling; a war correspondent ought to be a fascinating, contradictory, damaged character, but here he seems cast as Everyman.
And sadly, it feels as though they don’t quite trust their puppets to hold our attention or to tell their story. One otherwise-effective scene, consisting of a striking series of shadow vignettes, is accompanied by a narration so literal and descriptive it begins to feel like a sequence from a children’s TV show. As we see a young foot thrust into an army boot, the voice tells us that a boy has become a soldier – a plot point which, quite honestly, they could have trusted us to work out for ourselves.
It would be crass to overlook the importance of Grit’s theme, and there’s an admirable sincerity to the way Tortoise in a Nutshell confront it. But this is recognisably an early work, from a company which have (by all accounts) since gone on to great things. It flits too quickly between too many different stories, and in the end – unlike that clever projection – never quite throws the focus on any of them.
Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 6 February)
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