Saturday, 23 August 2014

FRONT

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars
The stark, solo trumpet fanfare that opens Luk Perceval's polyphonic
cut-up of First World War memoirs sets an anti-triumphalist tone for a
bi-lingual piece drawn from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The
Western Front and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire as well as contemporary
sources. What follows, as nine men and two women dressed in charcoal
black suits and white shirts line up on crates placed in front of
lamp-lit music stands across the lip of the stage, is an ice-cool piece
of European post-modernism that uses the trappings of live art to evoke
the horrors of war that arguably begat them.

The ensemble speak into microphones in German, French, Flemish and
English, weaving counterpointing dispatches from the Belgian frontline
around each other while gazing out front in reflection of the archive
photographs from the trenches projected behind them. The descriptions
of grotesquely dismembered bodies are delivered flatly, as if those
recounting them have been blasted by collective shellshock. When they
finally give vent, their words are possessed with the rage of Dadaist
sound poetry.

Performers spin like tops, their shirt-sleeved arms outstretched like
little human bombs waiting for the pin to be pulled. The martial
thunder of battle is bashed out on sheets of metal at the back of the
stage. Against all the odds, there is romance, as a nurse and the
wounded soldier she tends to cling to each other for dear life.

Delivered with such contemporary stylistic trappings, Perceval's
co-production between the Thalia Theater, Hamburg and NTGent brings
home just how much it is the the cannon-fodder who bear the bloody
brunt of war in a slow-burning elegy that honours them.

The Herald, August 23rd


ends

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