Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Theatre review: Above Me The Wide Blue Sky

Theatre companies seem to be quite happy lately to ditch the old adage about working with children and animals, and none more so than Fevered Sleep, whose last show On Ageing featured an entirely prepubescent cast. Their return to the Young Vic's Maria sees a dog join Laura Cubitt on stage for performance art piece Above Me The Wide Blue Sky, although like some of the audience, Leuca the whippet is content to nap through the performance. Above Me The Wide Blue Sky takes place in the middle of an installation of lights and film, which is open for an hour before and after every performance, should the audience wish to relax into the chattering soundscape of natural sounds and spinning Super-8 projectors. Fevered Sleep's idea behind the piece is to look at the relationship between humans and their natural surroundings, and how that relationship has been eroded in the centuries since the Industrial Revolution.

Cubitt arrives on stage with Leuca, and after settling the dog on her blanket sits on a stool, surrounded by the white-clouded skies projected onto the walls, and lists a number of sights, sounds and smells observed in nature. The way the natural world can't quite fit into our modern one is often referenced - like a bird of prey swooping for the fur collar of a coat, thinking it's food. Halfway through the performance the tense changes, and we go back through the list, but now these sights and sounds belong to the past.

Hansjörg Schmidt's lighting and Will Duke's projections make this a rather lovely space to sit in, and Jamie McCarthy and Charles Webber's sound design adds an atmospheric touch, especially to the "installation" element before and after the performance. But for this performance itself there's no escaping the fact that it's 45 minutes of a woman listing appealing, possibly lost things about the countryside. David Harradine and Sam Butler's text doesn't build the mental pictures it's presumably intended to, and Cubitt's performance isn't vocally varied enough to make up for this. And as a commentary on man's gradual distancing from nature, I found the repetition first in the present then past tense to be pretty facile.

As it clicked for the audience that the second half of the show repeated the observations in reverse order, so the repetition of the opening items (the smell of snow on wool, a cow's breath, the sky itself) heralded the end of the recitation, there was audible relief. If you're able to relax into the show's soporific mood you'll probably find this a moving elegy for the natural world, but if you're like me you'll find it a dull waste of time, with less to say than it thinks it does.

Above Me The Wide Blue Sky by Fevered Sleep is booking until the 28th of March at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 50 minutes straight through.

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