Emergence, the Fringe debut of theatre company the Pachamamas, is inspired – according to their notes – by the work of a number of artists: everyone from David Lynch to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Wim Wenders. There is ambition here, that much is clear, particularly in the way the company have attempted to create a surreal and often comic insight into grief and loss, a piece which explores the ways in which people relate to one other as they age. Unfortunately the piece, as a whole, doesn’t fully cohere.
Agnes (played by Agnes Brekke) is made by her mother to leave Columbia for London in order to attend boarding school, and the plot revolves around the physical and emotional distance that exists between the two women.
The story’s narrator – part cabaret singer, part undertaker – embellishes the piece with a cappella music, offering kooky asides about methods of dealing with everyday emotional struggle. Grief is a difficult subject matter to convey on stage; often the emotional turmoil is unseen, buried deep, internal rather than external. Emergence ambitiously blends autobiographical textual elements with dream sequences infused with the surreal, but ultimately these too-numerous, disparate threads end up alienating the audience. Stereotypes are employed too freely and the characterisation as a whole is lacklustre.
The resulting piece deals frequently in cliché; the character of the mother is portrayed as a ‘crazy bird lady’, who indulges in creative writing rather than bonding with her daughter. The play itself washes over the issue of the woman’s evident depression and loneliness – at times it seems to be laughing at her erratic behaviour.
There’s a lack of creative direction at work here, and though the piece pertains to be about grief, it’s rarely all that moving or easy to relate to. Emotional sensitivity has been traded for a sense of the surreal, and while it’s often possible to see what the company intended to achieve, where they intended to go, this lack of clarity becomes increasingly problematic.
Scottish/Peruvian director Lorraine Sutherland’s production is initially quite intriguing, but somewhere along the way, it seems to lose its nerve. The movement sequences are elegantly executed and there is definite scope for development here; you end up wishing they’d ditch the comedy penguin suits and concentrate on their strengths as a company: the use of movement, the shaping of the mother/daughter relationship. It’s difficult to fault their ambitions but the finished piece, as it is, falls flat.