Nonsuch Theatre’s Acqua Alta is a darkly modern retelling of Noah’s Ark expressed through rhythm, musicality and satire. Noah is a modern man, a millionaire capitalising on the effects of global warming by combatting extreme flooding with a fleet of cruise liners. Arkos, Noah’s most glorified vessel, is famed for its star attraction: a menagerie containing two of every animal except, that is, for unicorns. We follow a group of stranded unicorns waiting for Noah to rescue them and as their hooves grow evermore moist their hopes dwindle. Devised from artistic director Edward Boott’s dissertation for Rose Bruford’s European Theatre Arts course, he has built an ensemble of multi-national, multi-faceted talent to portray the intrigue and inexplicable ins and outs of mythology, structured around the all too familiar theme of detrimental greed. The cast manipulate form, genre and the audience as they skip between structure and improvisation with fluidity.
Fluidity is precisely what carries the narrative forward, represented in a multitude of ways. First, through the cascades of transparent sheeting that are festooned throughout the New Diorama’s space, transforming it into what felt like an underwater chamber and providing the company with a versatile, blank canvas of a backdrop. Some of the most vivid imagery used comes when Daniel Lilleskog’s character drowns, his form suffocated and silhouetted by the transparent fabric as it is whirled around him, undulating and out of control. This movement is another example of the fluidity of the narrative, articulated so individually by each company member but strung together as they push forward to reach the apex of their tale. Each of them is attempting to emulate the characteristics of a unicorn and each of their unicorns has specific nuances and characteristics, most successfully embodied by Henrietta Kristensen, whose unicorn was so full of intricate mannerisms that my eyes managed to deceive me.
Movement is very much the star of Acqua Alta and Barbara Rivas is very much the star of the movement. Her body bends and contorts in ways I never knew were possible. Rivas delivers a completely unintelligible monologue about her unwavering love of Noah (I think), but its unintelligibility is rendered obsolete because it is paired with an awe-inspiring display of fluidly graceful, ribbon rhythmic gymnastics.
The contrast between such elegance and animalistic greed is what makes Acqua Alta so intriguing. The vulgarity of greed is made evident on every layer of the hierarchy, from Noah’s extreme capitalism to the deserted unicorns and their demise into a Lord of the Flies-esque rabble. Underscored by an eerily uplifting soundtrack, Acqua Alta has the potential to dazzle. There are, however, areas that need a fair amount of tightening so that the audience can appreciate the narrative as much as they are appreciating the sheer skill involved in the movement. For this same reason I’d have liked more of a context provided for the unicorns and their plight. I felt like I was playing catch-up for the majority of the piece, trying to figure out exactly what was going on and why.
Nonsuch Theatre is an emerging company absolutely brimming with hard graft and talent and I think that it’s safe to say that it is not emerging quietly. I will definitely be watching this space.
Acqua Alta played at the New Diorama and is currently on tour. For more information and tickets, see the Nonsuch Theatre website.