Written for Exeunt
An accordion wheezes in and out as an old woman takes her last breaths, the musician reacting to each of the performer’s movements with amazing perceptiveness. The woman’s death is simple and gentle; a quiet celebration of her life. But watching this, I was left oddly cold; astonished at the technical skill of both the actress and the musician, but distanced from the piece and unable to feel any emotional connection with this moment of intimacy.
It’s a feeling I couldn’t entirely shake off throughout Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise. The piece is a soft look at one man’s memories of his wife and is intricately crocheted together with immense skill, but its physical eloquence belies a thin narrative. The story feels slight, a lightweight metal coat hanger on which to drape a beautiful garment: man meets woman, man marries woman, they live together, she works, he does too, she gets old, he does too, she dies (he doesn’t). Maybe I’m being too pithy. But then that’s really all that happens.
Written and directed by George Mann, the piece was created in part as a response to the death of his father so perhaps this singular focus is understandable. He wanted to tell a story that would reflect his own experiences, and there is a clear correlation to be made. Life is a thing of beautiful whimsy which should be feted, even in death. End of story.
But even for those, like me, whose hearts are clearly hardened, it is impossible not to be awed and impressed with the physical dexterity of the performers and the evident care and skill that has gone into the making of this show. Mann and Deborah Pugh embody their creations utterly, skipping from old age to youthful exuberance in the blink of an eye – or in an intake of accordion breath – as they place masks of aged faces, all drooping skin and neck wattle, over their own. Each change from youth to age feels enormous though it is often achieved through something as simple as a shifting of posture or a tiny movement in the angle of the head. The fluidity with which they dance around one another is glorious to watch. Hours of painstaking effort have clearly gone into the piece resulting in performances of total ease.
The accompanying accordion music is supplied by Kim Heron, one of the most empathic on-stage musicians I have ever seen. She follows the action like a hawk, feeding the story with her music in a way that not only supports each moment but nurtures it. She cradles this couple with her rousing whistles and melancholic arias. She is as much midwife as musician as she brings this tale to life.