This adaptation for the stage of Philip Pullman’s book is nothing short of sensational in both the literal and hyperbolic senses of the word. The piece is an allegory, a very beautiful and highly energetic contemplation of the difficulties and challenges encountered by an outsider when faced with trying both to understand and then to be assimilated into society. Serious stuff which is encountered in daily life as the process of growing up in this increasingly bizarre world takes place. Teresa Lodovico, the production’s creator and director, describes her approach to making theatre as finding her subject then to ‘chew it and feed from its essence, and when it gets inside my body and soul, that’s when I start creating the show.’
This total immersion in her chosen story delivers a production that holds a young audience’s rapt attention for over an hour and a half. No mean feat in itself. Pullman’s story of Roger, a boy who once was a rat, battling to understand his place and role in society offers an opportunity to explore the world in a series of episodes. Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, often anarchic but always beautiful and dynamic, the play examines many of society’s institutions and finds them wanting. The local authority, the police force, the school system, the health service, the press, the law and the lawmakers are paraded in a variety of guises, ranging from the spooky to the farcically ridiculous. None is more apocalyptic than the vision of society as a circus complete with its autocratic ring master, domineering matriarch and genuinely frightening full-faced clowns doing the bidding of their rulers. No wonder Roger is driven to exclaim “Who am I? I don’t understand.”
Working for the first time with an exclusively British cast Lodovico has maintained the aesthetic that she has previously created with performers from other European nations in previous productions. The artistry is ubiquitous and remarkable. Fox Jackson-Keen’s central performance as Roger is marvellous. An innocent abroad who dances up a storm and maintains a beautiful wide-eyed, child-like smile throughout. The whole cast is musical and there is a variety of instrumentation on display. It is, perhaps T. J. Holmes, cellist and accordionist, who in fusing that musicianship with his performance as the Philosopher Royal best illustrates the Teatro Kismet aesthetic. The rest of the cast is uniformly good and their energy and commitment is remarkable.
The central design team of Vincent Longuemare and Luigi Spezzacatene deliver a spectacle worthy of the name. Where the costumes are extraordinary and colourful, the masks exaggerated and striking, it is the lighting that truly takes the breath away. Longuemare’s trademark use of deep and vibrant colour is allied to boldness which speaks volumes of about a philosophy that embraces lighting as an artform all by itself.
Productions of this quality are thin on the ground. Both Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds have been privileged to host it and our region has a third opportunity when the show comes to the Arts Theatre in Cambridge from 1st – 4th May. Do anything you can to get along to see it.