Review: Paradiso ***

Physical Theatre

Paradiso

ZOO Charteris, v124

11.30 (ends 27 August)

*** (3 stars)

Disappointing. It didn’t help that the venue access was up and then down extremely rickety stairs – black [admittedly with a white edge] – and black handrails that kept changing height and disappearing, followed by a final shuffle past the first row of chairs along the very narrow edge of the front of the rake, with a drop below to the performing area: and all this to be done in virtual darkness — there appeared to be no concept of house lights at all. It’s a miracle there wasn’t an accident – I stumbled at one point, but blessedly didn’t fall. There was more light on the way out, so it’s not impossible, surely, to have better light on the way in???

This was not a good start to the show: unfortunately it didn’t get a whole lot better. Our Theatre was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia, works with different styles of puppetry and “is constantly in search of new, varied and diverse approaches that make our communication with the audience more effective”. The puppetry was indeed most interesting: rather than simply wearing masks, the puppeteers wore ‘half-people’ – head and costume, into which they inserted themselves so that the character had at least one arm available. The black-clad puppeteer was fully visible behind, which I found distracting – I wonder if this would have been less obvious if I hadn’t followed orders and sat on the front row?

Each of the three main characters – three old men in a retirement home – spoke a different language: Bibo used Italian, Ischa French, and Sir Robert English, while the nurse Bonita mainly used gesture and the occasional word, possibly in Spanish. I wonder how audience members got on who had no other language than their native tongue? The gestures and body language weren’t always particularly clear or intelligible, and I relied a lot on the language to work out what was going on.

If you like fart jokes and old men getting buxom young women to bend over so that they can ogle her bum, then maybe this is the show for you. It didn’t float my boat, but other people in the sadly small audience were laughing. There was interesting exploration of the challenges for a new arrival at the home in fitting in with existing friendships, and a couple of reflective moments with shadow work when one character’s past was explored: and then, just as the three men were possibly beginning to form a friendship, first one of them died and appeared before the Recording Angel, closely followed by the second, whereupon the third took it upon himself to follow them without an invitation.

The body movement was superb – and the audience was most surprised when the three ‘men’ unmasked and revealed that the fartiest old man was in fact a young woman – but the content and general feel simply didn’t do it for me. A pity, when there is so much brilliant mask work and puppetry around. Let us hope Our Theatre do better next year.

Mary Woodward