Young theatre company Idle Motion became a professional unit following their original success in 2009, when Borges and I premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe. Now, it has been fully developed with Dramaturg Lotte Wakeham and Co-deviser Julian Spooner, and transformed into a much bigger show.
Eschewing a conventional autobiographical reading of Argentinian magical realism writer Jorge Luis Borges for a devised story set in a self-consciously cringeworthy library book group , Borges is nonetheless alluded to throughout- his life trials mirror those of central character Sophie (a terrific Sophie Cullen) who is slowly suffering a degenerative eye condition. Borges, having already been published, first realised he was going blind in his thirties. A savage irony, given that he also worked in a library containing thousands of books. Some of the text references Borges’ own works, extracted from Dream Tigers, the Labyrinths short story compilation and his Selected Poems.
The tone is unusual, in that it is awkwardly pitched somewhere between a polite rom-com parody and heart-rending drama, and there can be no doubting the excellent acting from the solid six-strong cast, particularly Cullen and Grace Chapman as passive aggressive book group leader Hilary. But some of the characterisation is a little insubstantial, as with Sophie’s new lover Nick (Joel Gatehouse) whose increasingly unappealing neurosis seems more Hugh Grant than Woody Allen, or the underwritten Gabby (Ellie Simpson) who appears to have been shoehorned in to make up the numbers.
Yet, there are many elements within the script which impress- whether gently lampooning the conspicuous consumption of middle-class people who collect cultural artifacts from European holidays as if somehow gleaning ‘authenticity’; the chaotic scenes set on the daily commute, and the moment where Nick and Sophie find each other through their shared nerdiness- all neatly underplayed.
Where the production truly excels is as physical theatre, beautifully integrated within the narrative: all six cast members dance a clumsy balletic collision with umbrellas poised, pages spitting out like rain, and create a tiger with just a projection onto a raincoat or slinkily prowling in a flick book (Borges of course had a lifelong passion for tigers) . The movement choreography is at its loveliest when kept simple, finding the magical in the minutiae.
Borges and I is inconsistent,then, but at its best, a quietly affecting comedy drama, with a vivacious visual style.