Sometimes it feels like theatre is trying too hard to make a statement. Whether it be too in your face, too controversial, laden with popular culture references or political issues, it can all feel over done. Some productions feel so full of issues that there is barely room to think. I felt like this after leaving Mike Barlett’s 13 and, from what I have heard, DV8’s Can We Talk About This? is another example. It is all too noisy and you are left crying out for breathing space. Less can mean more and, if theatre isn’t thrusting ideas in our faces, it might give us some time to reflect.
Described as “a captivating journey of ordinary people’s otherworldly experiences” and constructed out of animation and “personal stories with music and puppetry”, Spirit at the Little Angel Theatre is a unique experience. It is a journey of thought and there is a lot of imagery to fall in love with. In particular, I was fond of the androgynous human puppet that towered over the stage with a kind of omnipotent presence, and the white fabric which was given human mannerisms, breathing and crying as it cradled a red cloth like a child.
Primarily a consequence of its lack of narrative structure, Spirit is both beautiful and disturbing. It is built upon snippets of audio – short life stories which are like extracts from someone’s stream of consciousness – providing an exploration of ideas rather than a linear story. It uses audio interviews, puppetry, music, props and a selection of small stacked light boxes to convey spirituality. It is like a dream, quite mesmerising, and despite addressing a heavy subject matter, it does not attempt to impose a view. It is light-hearted and even comic at times.
Although this kind of theatre is certainly not for everyone, it reminded me how important it is for theatre to not only address and analyse questions but to explore and raise them – to excite our imaginations. In this sense theatre – fringe, experimental, physical theatre, movement and performance art in particular – is a platform for thought. It is a place to explore, a creative display, so that audiences can come to their own conclusions.
If I’m honest, I did feel unfulfilled in some sense after Spirit because it really just got me thinking, raising questions and providing no answers, but strangely I quite liked that because at least it got my creative imagination going. As Matthew Warchus, Director of Matilda, stated last week as he received the Olivier Award for Best Director, the “creative imagination is the key to not only surviving life but improving and changing it for all of us”, so we should hold on to it when we find it.
I enjoyed Spirit, not because I thought it was revolutionary theatre but because it was honest and gave me room to think, a rarity in the world we live in today.