Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Doorbells of Florence - Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Doorbells of Florence By Andrew Losowsky
Director: Tom Wright

Reviewer: Honour Bayes

In the humid haze two children are playing with storytelling, jumping onto playing cards on the floor and embodying the spirits which infuse them there. Doorbells flash up on an ornate frame propped up at the back of the stage, each one a gateway to eccentric worlds of tender unconventionality. It is the owners of these doorbells whose stories the children inhabit, telling us tales of unemployed pedantic diarists, of conspicuous private detectives who turn their very obviousness into a maudlin advantage, of mirror houses for rent. Slowly but surely just as these two strange narrators are infused by these stories so to are we, in a piece which will take you for a brief moment out of the crushing mundanity of everyday life and into a world filled with wonder .

Inspired by photographs taken whilst he was in Italy, The Doorbells of Florence is a collection of short stories by Andrew Losowsky to be published at the end of May. Reminiscent of the delicate delight of Haruki Murakami, Losowsky's language walks the fine line between the real and the extraordinary, making even the most pedestrian situation seem magical and poignant. Director Tom Wright and actors Samuel Collings and Jennifer Jackson have chosen a selection of doorbells that spoke to them and thrown these tales together to create an hour of inverted Merchant Ivory storytelling.

Collings and Jackson charmingly gambling about the stage as our two young guides. Emerging from two cupboards they begin to tentatively explore the slide projector and tape players around them with an artless and childlike curiosity. Like silent film actors they gesture to each other with wide eyed wonder at the adventures before them, only to flip into consummate narrators whose clear cut English accents echo around the space as they channel each doorbell's secrets. A clear affection and sibling closeness floats between the two during this silent playing and they are engaging to watch, but when they speak it is Collings who is of particular note; rooted to the spot his body is none-the-less a vivid bundle of expressive moves, each gesture underpinning each sentence, a flick of an eye or realignment of body weight bringing to life these varied and vibrant characters. A brilliant storyteller, he holds out his hand and you go with him completely.

Wright succeeds in translating the bewitchment inherent within these exquisite stories from page to stage in a production which is nimble and intricately detailed with an elegantly light touch. From the assured performances of his actors to the enchanting Italian rhythms of his taped musical interludes, he has infused the Rosemary Branch's stage with Losowsky's sense of adventure and possibility. The physical extensions are subtle and the visual moments of play are delightful; if anything it would have been exciting to see more of this play, to break free of the rhythm of story, interlude, story and to interlink these moments more organically, but this is possibly something that could be developed further in time.

The design, from Liam Shea's paint dripped room to Pete Bragg's and Dinah Mullen's subtle but infinitely enriching lighting and sound, turns the space into a bizarre 'room with a view', perfectly encasing these little vignettes of story in a setting which suitably makes the ordinary extraordinary.

A gentle piece of work, The Doorbells of Florence won't start a revolution or change your life, but it will infuse your world view for a moment with the same joie de vivre that Amelie had in spades. This joie de vivre will stay with you for a while after, popping up when you're walking down the street or sitting on a park bench, and prompting you to view the world with childlike eyes; to look beyond the flat surface of things and ask yourself 'why?'.

The Doorbells of Florence runs until Sun 31st May
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