Tuesday 31 August 2010

EIF 2010: Sin Sangre, or here we go again. Sigh.

The first thing one should always do when deciding on theatrical offerings at the Edinburgh International Festival is read the small print.  In this case, the key word is “stylised” - the acting, and the vocal delivery in particular (I have never heard a child who sounded like the child does here) fight the text and pretty successfully drain away the emotional impact that it ought to have.

This is not uncommon in EIF theatrical offerings, as previous reviews of mine have indicated.  But in this case it is particularly frustrating because of the quality of the text.  The play is an adaptation of Alessandro Baricco's novel of the same name.  Baricco, most famous for his novella Silk is a master of that particular form of shorter fiction.  His prose has a rhythm to it, so that the pages turn rapidly – in Sin Sangre the novella the pace is unrelenting and the dialogue came alive in my head.  I read the book not long ago, and the text, as conveyed by the subtitles last night, certainly read like Baricco.

The first problem with the adaptation, to my mind, is Teatro Cinema's principle claim to an original idea.  As the name implies, the show (and The Man Who Fed Butterflies, their other offering) attempt to fuse film and theatre.  As the programme note explains, the actors perform in a strip of space between two screens onto which are projected the film of the various backgrounds.  This was not wholly dissimilar, although obviously far more complex in execution, to the use of film in Sunset Boulevard.  For the first 10-15 minutes I appreciated the complexity of the staging and its visual beauty.  But as time goes on the novelty wears off, and the process seems to get increasingly in the way of the story as the narrative – which zips along in Baricco's novel, holding at least this reader in a vice like grip – grinds to a halt.

This is not solely the fault of the staging, but of Teatro Cinema's stylised approach to acting.  I think this must be something they are teaching them in the theatrical schools.  Rather than deliver dialogue in a realistic way – as if two people were actually conversing as they might in something approaching real life, all sorts of strange inflexions, odd pauses, grunts, accents are thrown into the mix so that the performance ends up seriously at odds with the text (Sin Sangre is rescued from being seriously irritating in this regard by the sober quality of the subtitling; I have a nasty suspicion that if the text had been performed in English the acting could have dismembered it as maddeningly as the American Repertory Theatre did the Three Sisters or MabouMines did A Doll's House).  Particularly worthy of note was the actress playing Nina (the girl bent on vengeance), who appeared at points to be channelling the spirit of Captain Jack Sparrow with a whole lot of weird gesturing, sadly lacking Johnny Depp's comedic genius.

Visually there is something to appreciate in this show, and the first half in which the revenge killings take place is not without power.  The true measure of whether 90 minutes of uninterrupted theatre has been successful however is whether you find it passing very slowly or you find yourself straining your eyes in the darkness trying to see how much more there is to go – both of which applied to me last night.  True to form, Mills has done it again, and brought boring experimental theatre to the International Festival.  Is it too radical to suggest that it might be time just to tell a few straight stories?

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