Teatr Biuro Podrozy, Pigs / Periplum, Arquiem

Review in Issue 17-4 | Winter 2005

Two evening events that prove (should any proof be needed) that outdoor street theatre is an appropriate medium for dark, disturbing and thought-provoking work. These are very different pieces, but both companies (one Polish, one British) use stilt-work – more associated with jolly-good-fun walkabout but in these two shows used to chilling effect.

First the Polish company, Teatr Biuro Podróży. Pigs, in their similarity to humans, are an obvious choice of metaphor to explore man’s inhumanity to man (Orwell’s Animal Farm springs to mind) – and the exploitation of other men and other creatures. We start innocently enough with a children’s playground, actors in very effective little piggy ears romp, climb and tumble around a great set – a giant metal slide and climbing frame. We then have a wonderful example of the dramatic potential of stilts, as the adults enter – towering high above the little piggies in grown-pig whole-head masks. The gradual slide from slightly unnerving seen-from-the-eyes-of-a-child ‘ordinary’ adult authority of parent or teacher to horrifying oppression by authoritarian despots is dealt with extremely convincingly; the robust physical performance skills of the actors, the set that morphs into whatever is needed, the use of fire at key moments; the integration of visual and sonic elements. The climactic ending is, if anything, a bit too much to take; we are left overwhelmed, gasping. Some sort of coda – a tail to the tale – would have been welcome.

Arquiem is Periplum’s first outdoor show. The company have a healthy track record indoors with shadowy and disturbing productions like Artaud, and director Claire Raftery has another life as a stilt performer, so this is an obvious (if risky) next step. It’s a risk that pays off: Arquiem, seen here on one of its first outings, is a piece crackling with moon-time dark energy, an investigation of the eternal marriage of Eros and Thanatos. It takes as its starting point Robert Browning’s poem ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, which, pre-empting Eminem by more than a century, is a spooky first-person confessional musing on murder.

The piece starts dramatically, with the ominous sound of chanting voices, and a big-wheeled medieval cart bearing a prisoner emerges from a tunnel, pulled across Winchester Cathedral Green as the sun sets. The audience follows, drawn into the action. The company take chances, risking the fast movement through the crowd of flare-bearers and wheeled tripods, but their psychology is sound, and light and noise signals create pathways and provide focus without the need for heavy-handed stewarding. Lighting has always been a strong feature of Periplum’s work; in particular hand-held or non-rigged light sources as an essential element of the staging. Arquiem is no exception, from the timing of the entrance to make use of the changing natural light, to the sudden intense searchlight, to the erupting fire flares, to the shadow play of figures inside the moving tripods. The site is also used to full advantage – one of many stunning visual moments realised as faceless black-robed stilt creatures stand illuminated against Winchester Cathedral.

Still in its early days, the piece could do with some development work – there could perhaps be a bit more Eros to add a little more contrast of tone. But this is already a good piece of street theatre and looks to evolve into a truly great outdoor piece.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Date Seen
  1. Jul 2005

This article in the magazine

Issue 17-4
p. 30