When Simon Stephens’s version of Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind opened in 2011, it was met with suspicion by most British critics. Predictably for Stephens, when it then toured Europe, the production was a huge success. Warwick University Drama Society’s revival is a sincere and delicate success, although its aesthetic doesn’t always gel with the play’s particular characteristics.
I Am the Wind has a similar relation to drama as prose-poetry has to fiction; it looks like it could be the same thing, but behaves according to different formal rules. It’s slippery and lyrical, plaintive and imagistic; its two characters are less driven by dramatic ‘objectives’ and more by innate needs, their sense of displacement and desire to connect with the world.
This world consists of a boat, adrift a serene and secluded landscape of reefs and coves. Tom Bulpett’s character is the newcomer here, troubled and yearning to understand the environment’s beauty, and his companion’s interaction with it. That companion is played by Beth Holmes, and is an eerie combination of sing-songy saccharine and darkly morbid. After they have moored and eaten, Holmes’s character casts the boat into the open sea, before letting herself be flung into the waves and swallowed by the deep. Bulpett’s mournful retelling of this scene as it happens is devastatingly poignant, and his performance captures the gorgeous and simple lyricism of Stephens’s language.
There’s palpable beauty here – but this production’s dramaturgy often seems to resist the play’s own terms. British theatre typically likes to particularise, placing a strange playworld into a literal, naturalised environment: real people in real places ‘meaning’ real things. This is patently not how I Am the Wind works – even on a linguistic level, its characters are uncomfortable with anchoring any one idea or any sensation to the confines of particular words.
This production isn’t always sensitive to this. It struggles with the topography of the play, which seems to resist attempts to literalise the way in which the characters interact with their environment. When jumping on and off the boat to moor it, for example, Bulpett seems too much as if he is trying to find a way of actually looking like he is jumping from a boat to shore, or actually pulling the boat in, which comes across clumsily.
This isn’t enough to derail the production, though, and only really becomes problematic at certain moments in the play. Holmes’s and Bulpett’s elegant performances make this brave bit of programming from Warwick a sensitive and soulful choice.
I Am the Wind is at Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209) until 23 August. For more information and tickets, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/i-am-the-wind