It has been a week to pull out the hankies in the Bristol theatre scene. After Kneehigh got the tear ducts flowing with their take on the great love affair between Tristan and Yseult it is now Theatre Ad Infinitum’s turn to tug at the heart strings with their little gem of a show Translunar Paradise, playing at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday.
No words are spoken but much is said in this 75 minute work conjured from the mind of the multi-talented George Mann and his performer accomplice Deborah Pugh. The work follows an old man William- played by Mann with the use of a mask to differentiate old and young- as he heads home from the hospital having bid a final goodbye to his wife and lifelong companion. Unpacking the suitcase she took to the hospital with her, filled with a lifetime of accoutrements brings back recollections of a life lived with love; full of the happiness, laughter, tears and fury that it brings and provokes in turn.
It is a play partly about the mourning process, of getting used to two becoming one. He makes tea for two. He sits blankly at the table, the silence dragging intermittently on where once there would have been chatter. It’s the kind of show to make you grip your loved ones close and call those who may now be alone. It’s a work to remind you that nothing matters as much as cherishing every moment you have to those who you love most. It is in short both exquisitely painful and tremulously beautiful.
Both Pugh and Mann were trained at the École International de Theátre Institute in Paris and the Lecoq based training they received there is at the heart of the work devised. The two are balletic in their movement, switching from the hunched arthritic older couple contemplating their final goodbye and then zooming back to the couples early days where the heady rush of romance promises a lifetime of possibility and they are a musical break away from being in a dream ballet devised by Agnes de Mille. The masks used to convey the older couple are gnarly wrinkled but still possess neutrality, it is only when they breathe into them and take on the physicality of the old that they truly work their magic. Drama school students across the country dread trying to bring these masks to life in exercises where they feel lumpen and uninspired, but here those countless hours of exertion in the safety of the classroom pays off. The exercise has turned into exquisite art.
Accompanying them every step of the way is Sophie Crawford providing a live scoring on stage using accordion and vocals. It is has the dreamy otherworldly feel of East European folk music, mixed in with the odd whistle of something closer to home, Vera Lynn in the background as William is forced into a first separation from his wife for example.
It’s a show revived as part of Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ten year anniversary but is a work that will not age, do not be surprised if it continues breaking hearts in the tenth, twentieth and many further anniversaries as well.