Theatre Ad Infinitum’s incredibly touching piece of mime theatre is an exercise in delicacy. It wordlessly journeys through the lives of two people, through all the stages of their marriage, from young love to loss in old age.
The piece is beautifully executed, full of precise and well-judged visual detail. There’s elegance in the piece’s economy, in the way it uses gesture and repeated motifs to convey the story of a whole life lived. The performers hold masks to their faces when playing the older versions of their characters; they waltz with these masks, putting them on and removing them again, as if in a tangle of memories, the past bleeding into the present – the poignancy of one man looking back.
The wordless nature of the piece means that only extremes of emotion are easily conveyed, the highs and the lows, while the muddy middle ground of marriage tends to get ignored. Instead they present a collage of moments of great joy mixed with moments of anguish and trauma: the loss of a child, the departure of the husband to war. The performances are wonderful to watch, full of subtly and warmth. George Mann (who also directs) and Deborah Pugh are both superb, both in the precise, slightly stylised nature of their movements and in the way they convey real affection and connection between the couple. The look of the piece, with the masks and the minimal colour palette, is one of European animation – it has a stop motion quality. Kim Heron’s music, making uses of both vocals and accordion, give the play its pulse, a drifting, time shifting grace.
The production is at times a little too obvious, tugging on the heart-strings with more force than is perhaps necessary, but it’s also full of genuinely moving moments: the old man frozen in mourning, facing life alone after all these years. The production has an elegant, dream-like quality that is almost hypnotic; the repetitions of the piece, the recurring steps, become soothing, familiar – it’s as if you are entering a half-way world where this couple are forever engaged in the act of parting. Needless to say there was quite a lot of quiet sobbing in the audience by the time the piece came to an end.