Verdict: Creative voyage through imagination
London – Etcetera Theatre – 5 – 7 August 10 – 13:30 (1:00)
Edinburgh 10 – theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall, Venue 53 – 6-28 August 09 – Times vary (1:00)
Death of the Unicorn is a fantastic exploration of imagination throughout life. Wet Concrete Theatre stylishly navigate imagination’s origins, the glory of creative freedom during childhood, growing up’s painful practicality and the frustrations of inspiration and identity in early adulthood.
At the outset, the stage is littered with creative possibilities: the eye catches cloths, musical instruments, storybooks and at least three bodies lie tangled centre stage. Pads of paper and large colourful crayons await potential artists as they take their seats beyond the proscenium arch. To one side, a blindfolded woman (Morag Sims) sits in a black shawl jangling a pot of paintbrushes. She removes her blindfold and shawl to reveal faded patchwork dungarees and narrates in rich symbolic language as the pile of bodies rises to reveal her baby self (Stephanie Roberts), clad in similar patchwork, only bright and colourful.
Lydia Hourihan, Mimi Findlay and Paul Burgess are a visual treat as the perpetually shifting chorus. Wearing a scrap bag of shades rather than colours, with black and white makeup smeared here and there, they are the sea one moment, a circus the next, providing literal backdrops, metaphorical states and sound effects, both realistic and atmospheric. The company’s physicality is impressive and inspiring. Both lead and narrator are supported and subsumed into movement by the chorus and there is an ingenious variety of performance delivery.
First sensory experiences are delivered with youthful colour and expressive physicality; childhood dreaming with shadow puppetry. As our lead ages, the chorus provide voices – fleeting presences – and later characters as required. In an early adult kitchen scene Lydia Hourihan and Mimi Findlay create work surfaces with their bodies and sound effects with their voices as Stephanie Roberts and Paul Burgess (in an amazing turn as our narrator’s literally minded partner) mime preparing food whilst delivering a moving argument scene.
As the title suggests, the unicorn is sadly mortal. Early childhood dreaming is lost to the mediocrity and practicality of bourgeoning adulthood. Deconstruction and analytical thought is given a scornful treatment by Stephanie Roberts’ script: literally all adult guidance and intervention is depicted as restrictive, critical and unimaginative. University, told with suitable verve and indulgence in drugs and self-analysis, offers more distractions, but education continues to restrict both thought and expectation.
The narrator, who spoke and played nostalgically with her childhood self, is frustrated with herself as a student and at points in her life story is angry and even refuses to participate. Morag Sims delivers an admirably detailed performance but is most compelling when not narrating – such as watching the kitchen scene close to tears. Her narration is engaging, but a self-satisfied tone creeps in, almost lecturing the audience at points.
Stephanie Roberts is a wonderfully expressive child, petulant teenager and arrogant student; her physicality shifting appropriately throughout. Thomas Martin’s score is effective if sparingly used – chilling at top and tail and a wonderful addition to the incredible depiction of a magic mushroom trip.
Just as the narrator’s tone can sometimes seem inappropriate, the language tips at being over-flowery. But the diction has been deliberately chosen and, along with the choreography, structured with care. Death of the Unicorn is an inventive celebration of imagination, a damnation of any who attempt to contain it, and the company rise to meet their own high standards.
Cast Credits: (alpha order): Paul Burgess, Mimi Findlay, Lydia Hourihan, Stephanie Roberts, Morag Sims
Company Credits: Devised by the Company. Writer / Director – Stephanie Roberts. Composer – Thomas Martin. Lighting Designer – Paul Burgess. Stage Manager – Luke Harris. Stage Manager – Joe Capes. Company – Wet Concrete Theatre. Website – www.wetconcetetheatre.com
(c) Ben Neale
Reviewed Thursday, 05 August 2010 / Etcetera Theatre, London UK