Thursday, 12 November 2009

i-witness - Birmingham Rep

Created by Catherine Bennett, Paul Davies, Philip Ralph and Fern Smith.
Director: John Hardwick
Film: Lucy Cash
Reviewer: Robert Yates

i-witness is inspired by the work of WG Sebald, particularly The Rings of Saturn (Vintage, 2002) translated by Michael Hulse. It was first performed by the Volcano Theatre Company in October 2008 and is currently touring the UK. This play is not simply a book review, nor is it simple. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book you’ll still find this a fascinating evening of entertainment.

The plot, if it can be called that, is all about the reactions of the four performers to the book. In this sense it is four book reviews in one. It begins with a film to which the four actors provide sound effects and commentary; this was the hardest part to understand. If you can suffer through the first ten minutes of confusion the play livens up with interaction between the audience and the cast.

We are introduced to the initial concepts of each character at this point, which proves very useful in understanding how they portray this reaction. Catherine is the quiet one noticing the details. Paul didn’t like it so focuses on the seemingly random facts, even providing a few ‘fictional facts’ along the way. Philip believes its all about death and destruction and Fern appears much more obsessed with the walk, rather than the concepts. The four reactions provide numerous tangents that each character wants to explore only to be hauled back to the essence of the book from another point of view.

The whole play is a mish mash of concepts which really shouldn’t flow together, but through the clever use of dramatic effects, sudden switches in tempo from a monologue to a dance or an awkward silence that appears to be an act of defiance, daring the audience to say something, almost taunting the audience, ‘you came to watch us, but we’re going to watch you’. With four enthusiastic entertainers and therefore four narrators it is a cleverly intertwined script that allows for each character to display their thoughts long enough without any one dominating.

The frenzied depiction of Rembrandt's Anatomy lesson is a clever way of leaving you with no doubt that the book has been thoroughly examined, perhaps it’s highlighting the way in which they have dissected the book. I must confess I haven’t read The Rings of Saturn but I certainly feel that I know the book.

I-witness is a play full of mischief and comedy spiralling through dance, film, ‘fictional facts’ and simply a walk. It is a hilarious dissection of a book in theatrical form that provides for a thoroughly entertaining evening.

Runs until Saturday 14th Nov.
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