Over the last 18months, current students and graduates of the Diploma in Physical Theatre Practice course at Adam Smith College in Glasgow, have been developing an ambitious piece of theatre. Their director Simon Abbott, inspired by images of tsunami victims and pictures of Alzheimer’s sufferers, brought together professional puppeteers, mask makers and costume designers to explore, ‘how physical disasters located in the wider world are reflected in the human body.’ After The Wave is the result.
It began with a young girl of about 12 skipping about happily to pipe music, soon joined by her mother who plays about with her, pulling faces and pretending to be aeroplanes while constantly smiling and laughing. They are soon joined by others, in twos, threes or larger groups: after more smiling and waving to each other, they too continue to play similar games, until the whole cast is running about playing, while smiling and laughing happily in a way that was already feeling more than a little laboured.
At first these people have, on occasion, been gazing out towards the audience with a blissful sigh, but gradually one or two begin to look out with some concern. This builds slowly until, with a tremendously loud drumbeat, the lights dim, the music changes and large crow-like creatures appear, quickly clearing the once-happy community from the stage.
After a bit of silence, one by one, a few members of the community return – distressed and bedraggled. They no longer communicate with each other: they either stare emptily into space or engage in meaningless, repetitive movements. There is a lot more silence. Then ghosts or memories of their loved ones appear in the form of white puppets and slowly the dislocated, distanced members of the community begin to connect again. One begins singing and is joined by others until the whole community come together at the end, finding some peace and comfort in that togetherness.
This was a bit like the curate’s egg: good in parts. The puppets and puppetry was excellent, as were the crows-on-stilts costumes. However, while these elements of the performance stirred some real emotion, they appeared too briefly to deliver any sustainable impact and remained awkwardly separate from the human action.
There was a moving moment, when the distressed survivors held up photos of their loved ones and pleaded with the audience, in a variety of European languages, for any news. However, to have set us up to believe in such a strangely, intimately-connected group of people in the first place and then be asked to believe that such a close community would be unable to even look each other in the eye after the disaster, was almost incomprehensible. There was no ‘Blitz spirit’ pulling people together here.
From reading the programme notes, I am guessing that the isolation and lack of connection after the disaster was an attempt to explore aspects of Alzheimer’s but, for me, this didn’t work. Perhaps it was the one-dimensional nature of everyone behaving in the same way. Perhaps there was a point to that dimension that I just didn’t get. Perhaps to explore two such devastating and complex themes within the same piece was just a little too ambitious. Perhaps you should see for yourself.