Thursday, 31 January 2019
REVIEW: Antarctica - HOME, Manchester
Antarctica is ‘an immersive work of orchestral music theatre.’ Composer and lead performer Laura Bowler travelled to Antarctica in January 2018 and subsequently devised a show intended to recreate the experience in Manchester. The piece combines footage from the trip, live orchestral music from Manchester Camerata (conducted by Jessica Cottis) and a vocal performance that occupies a space between spoken word and recitative opera. It also attempts to address climate change and the specific damage to the Antarctic, in particular citing the expiry of the Antarctic Treaty in 2048.
The performance started well, effectively evoking a sense of being on board a ship and followed by a lovely reveal of the onstage orchestra. The orchestral performance was slick and competent throughout with the percussionists being used particularly well to create a beautifully eerie whine. At the back of the stage there was a large screen and this was also incorporated in an innovative way; action on stage was filmed live and immediately projected onto the screen adding an interesting layer to the performance. Unfortunately, this is where most of my praise ends. Overall I found the piece unpolished, chaotic and, despite all the noise, dull. The vocal performances and orchestral composition were repetitive, overlong, uninspired and often fighting over each other to be heard. Any effectiveness that was to be had from complex layers of repeated words and musical phrases was lost due to an apparent inability to know when enough is enough. Self-editing is key in all theatre but is utterly vital when creating something more avant garde. The multimedia aspects were ambitious but inconsistent in execution. The sequences that contributed to live projections were slick and well rehearsed though I felt the HOME stage did not provide quite enough room for it. There was an attempt to blend the authentic sea footage with other images; maps, statistics etc., but it was poorly done and gave an impression of un-professionalism. This was then compounded by the constant loop of the same footage of blank, featureless ocean.
I would have hoped a trip to the Antarctic might have yielded more inspiring visuals. The promise of ‘immersive theatre’ is not something that is delivered on; surround sound and a confetti cannon do not immersive theatre make. And then, after a thankfully brief period of unintelligible screeching, the show ended on an almost high; a pre-recorded video of Laura Bowler performing a poem by Bysshe Coffey. This was the true highlight of the show. Bowler performed this superb poem without frills or gimmicks, and it was genuinely beautiful.
Unfortunately, the overly specific credits then began to roll over the screen and over her performance completely drawing focus. I overheard one member of the audience expressing his love for this piece so there is without doubt an audience for it. For me, however, it is a mess with no clear message, or at least no message I could decipher from the overwhelming cacophony of sound, and it is telling when the 20 minute Q&A afterwards was more informative and compelling than the show itself. The Q&A also proved that there is genuine passion and understanding for their message and their craft, and I wish it had translated more successfully into their show.
Reviewer - Deanna Turnbull
on - 30/1/19