Andrew Quick & Pete Brooks
imitating the dog, with Marche Teatro (Italy), Arts Council, Lancaster Arts and
Theatre By The Lake, Dukes Theatre, Lancaster
19 March 2019 - 23 March, 2019; 2hr 10min inc interval
If there's one thing theatre makers imitating the dog dislike (apart from capital letters), it's theatrical convention. They delight, and occasionally perplex, in turning their stage productions inside out to reveal brilliantly-constructed works that combine digital cinema projection with live performance. In their approach to Joseph Conrad's seminal novella they go a step further and reveal some details of their approach to adapting it from page to stage.
The cast of five re-enacts the thought processes that lie behind the creation of the production, in between acting out a modern take on the story. Instead of one man’s journey into the dark heart of Africa in the 19th century, the story becomes a Congolese woman’s foray through a more contemporary, war-torn Europe.
What emerges is part stage-play, documentary, feature film (including extracts from Apocalypse Now and its own Vietnam setting) and even artwork, in a dense multimedia performance that can best be described as a response to the story and some of the debate that swirls around its themes of colonialism, exploitation, capitalism and nationalism.
You can admire the technique, marvel at the creativity and puzzle over the narrative, but probably struggle to concentrate on the drama. That was certainly not helped, on opening night at least, by an inadequate sound system that hollowed out the actors’ voices. The inevitable lip-sync delay between what is heard and what is seen on the digital screens aggravates that problem.
Visually though it's a feast for the senses, with images cast on a huge backdrop or triptych of screens above the stage. Cast members double as camera operators, narrators or characters from the story. Snatches of newsreel, sub-titled information, split-screen techniques and dialogue from Apocalypse director Francis Ford Coppola, or his movie, sometimes crowd each other out, to the point of system overload. It’s never less than intriguing, without necessarily being illuminating.
Heart of Darkness runs here until Saturday but also tours to other regional venues.