The crème of Bristol artistic talent has come together for Ice Road, an immersive work at a former Victorian bathing house near the centre of town, places its audience directly into the terrible siege of Leningrad in 1941 where it was estimated over 800,000 people died, many from starvation.
The four orphans whose story playwright Sharon Clarke adopts definitely look the worst for wear. Tucked away in the wreckage of an old destroyed apartment building, they scramble to survive, fighting off unwanted intruders and sharing out any hard won food they can find. Performers Heledd Gwynn, Elin Phillips, Roanna Lewis and Alex York are fully engaged in their work; bruised, vulnerable and a little bit feral, they fully convince as citizens of a Soviet Union left to rot by a world that has abandoned them to their fate.
If these performances never quite hit the heart, it is less to do with their work and more to do with structure that sees the performances get lost in the industrial sized Jacobs Wells Baths. Conor Murphy’s cavernous set rises 100 feet in the air, some moments of action playing perilously high above us as though Cirque De Soleil aerial acts have taken to the sky for a death defying plunge. To fill the space the four performers are forced to scramble, climb and run in almost constant motion, it is dizzying and occasional disorientating and director Kate Hewitt cannot hone in on the moments the audience need to focus on. The 70 minutes pass in a blur, its narrative never always being immediately clear and the fate of its character never fully gripping.
It’s a shame as the whole is so close to being something momentous. Animation by Aardman, projections by Limbic Cinema and a sound design that shakes the very foundations by Timothy X Atack are all astonishing, as is the deep coated snowfall that audience and performer alike trudge in. You feel the cold of the place, even on an unseasonably muggy October evening.
Raucous have been a very welcome addition to the Bristol scene and this is a work that deserves to be seen for sheer ambition alone. Each individual element is rich in detail and execution, what it lacks is a guiding steady hand to blend it all together. An impressive technical achievement but one that lacks drama