“Much can be admired about the creativity and innovative ideas”
Never has the deep, damp, dark cloisters of The Vaults been the most ideal place to stage a production. Me & My Whale which explores aquatic life, is visually and audibly exciting, using ingenious techniques to evoke an underwater world.
We follow the captain (Hannah Mook) of a submarine on her journey below the depths of the deep blue sea. All is calm as she’s focussed on her job at hand, but this is not for long as she soon falls head over heels in love. With a whale. Captivated by the mammal’s song, the captain is besotted. But this is no happily ever after as tragedy is in store. Blending multimedia techniques (mostly triggered and performed live by Xavier Velastin) with absurdist, performance art, there is a deeper message that runs through, calling out the damage we’re causing to our oceans environmentally and technologically.
Projectors, spinning bowls of water, blue food colouring and clear plastic dust sheets are just some of the objects used that are more than just props, they are the tools that transform the space into being visually quite mesmerising. Designer Virag Pazmany and technicians Venus Raven and Ariane Nixon complete the team whose combined expertise help to bring Mook and Velastin’s vision to life.
Hannah and Xavier have a warm and inviting presence on stage, with a clear joyous chemistry between one another that is infectious to be in the presence of. Unfortunately, at times parts can drag, or lose meaning, feeling it could be tightened in places. Shaving a few minutes off the running time would be ideal. There is no real story per se, in a conventional way, however, what loose storyline there is, isn’t used to its full potential. Any kind of plot, or even just symbolism in the performance art/abstract movement can be muddied and lost.
Much can be admired about the creativity and innovative ideas Hannah and Xavier have incorporated into the piece. The atmospheric world that envelops you leaves your senses tingling. At its high points Me and my Whale will make you chuckle or marvel at the sights and sounds. However this is too often dominated by moments of monotony leaving you befuddled or drifting off. Not quite a ‘whale’ of a time, but certainly an intriguing journey to be a part of.
“it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another”
Performed as part of this year’s Voila! Europe Festival, one of the rare festivals in London that brings together British and continental European artists to create what they call a “border-busting mix of multicultural, multilingual, and multidisciplinary performance”, ‘Unbelonger’ is a clever, witty and inventive piece of physical theatre exploring ideas of identity, discrimination and – you guessed it – belonging.
Directed and devised by Finnish artist Erika Eva, the piece uses puppetry and movement to narrate one person’s struggle to feel at home in a foreign environment. What words or actions make us feel excluded, and how does this exclusion affect our own sense of personal and cultural identity? Whether it be work, school or the search for love, the cost of ‘fitting in’ can sometimes be high. To what extent can communities or groups accept ‘different’ cultures, and how could we work to interweave these cultures successfully?
Thematically, ‘Unbelonger’ asks vital and timely questions of its audience and seeing this work here just five months before Britain leaves the European Union reminds us to think more about how our national identity is formed and defined. The international cast (Janaki Gerard, Silvia Manazzone, Tongchai Hansen and Durassie Kiangangu) are energetic and their movement precise, whisking between set pieces effortlessly. Eva combines repetition and an effective use of lighting to explore how good something can look from the outside, but reveal itself to be cold and hollow when we finally get invited in. Xavier Velastin provides a thrilling, almost dystopian, synth-like score, playing it live on his own board of electronic instruments (and what looked like a joystick). Expert use of lighting highlights moments of private reflection, and some cute puppetry from Manazzone creates an intimate relationship between the self and its past.
‘Unbelonger’ is bursting with beautiful, funny set pieces, and the storytelling is clear from the start. As a sum of its parts though, it feels like it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another. It forces some uncomfortable questions nonetheless, and it is work like this that makes the Voila! Europe Festival such a thrilling and necessary part of London theatre.