Genre: Physical Theatre
Venue: CLF Art Cafe, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane London SE15 4ST (Peckham Rye)
The pilgrimage through the light and dark crevices of the mind are beautifully evoked in Panta Rei Theatre’s Rocinante! Rocinante! Taking its subject matter from the originality of Cervante’s Don Quixote, the setting for the production masterfully constructs madness as a kind of ecstatic and passionate state. The technical accomplishments of director Chiara D’Anna’s creative team is vividly apparent: Steve Mason’s evocative music and sound design, Cis O’Boyle atmospheric lighting, Nadia Malik’s bold costumes all combine in a succession of ethereal and surreal experiences. If this is madness, it is amazingly and ironically human in its quest for meaning.
Within this all-too-humanly-flawed world exists the absolute and undeniable reality of death. Faced with this truth, the audience follows the action around the space, sometimes as part of a funeral procession and at other times as neighbours seated together listening to recent calamities. These two kinds of experiences are skilfully shaped by the cast of Juancho Gonzales, Daniel Rejano, Stephanie Lewis and Tommy Scott, who weave together the world of Don Quixote in parallel with Chiara D’Anna, Anna Zehentbauer and Almudena Segura’s sense of a more authoritative world of philosophers, writers and storytellers. Which one is more real? Or to put it another way, how on earth is ‘To be or not to be’ not a maddening existentialist question which remains impossible to answer… ever!
As the theatre company’s name suggests Panta Rei – a Greek term meaning ‘everything flows’ – everything is constantly changing. It seemed obvious to me that the company is fascinated by the nuanced changes to the meaning of particular words and symbols. The clusters of props hanging in the performance space look like ripe fruit ready to be picked and enjoyed with gusto.
Another term which comes to mind throughout the production is, of course, the now established adjective of quixotic: as a description of “extravagantly chivalrous, romantic, visionary”. What I believe Rocinante! Rocinante! shows magnificently is that such ‘madness’ is a laudable antidote to ‘death’ and that not to be mad is to in a kind of living death. This is what Sancho realises, for instance, when he counteracts Don Quixote’s realisation that he is only a madman and, in the other world of the play, when Gary and Lolly perform Lolly’s mock burial.
The success of the show is in no small way due to the company’s ‘physical theatre’ style performances which seem to be informed by their knowledge of Commedia Dell’Arte techniques. The whole experience is choreographed and stylised in detail, with Tommy Scott’s portrayal of the donkey stealing the show as a kind of ‘real hero’ – selfless, loving and faithful. Stephanie Lewis’s transformations between Rocinante to Dulcinea are brilliant and it is this duality, so pivotal to the experience of the show, which resonates in you for hours after viewing it.
If I have any criticism, it is the usual one that can be made of all works in their early stage of development. In places it tries to do too much, say too much and doesn’t quite trust the audience enough to ‘get it’. I felt this particularly with regards to the use of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Sometimes it seems just too clever by half.
I hope the company gets to further develop this splendid work. The theatre company’s bilingualism is a tour de force in its own right and extremely entertaining. Rocinante! Rocinante! deserves to be experienced by many audiences, in many locations. It radically reminds us that there is an alternative to embracing ‘madness’ as an illness, and that in human history we have been enriched and ennobled by the concept of madness as a productive state of mind.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 13 February 2012
‘Physical Theatre’ + Promenade + Site Specific really!