There’s a quote from Lenin that reads, “a single death is a tragedy, one million deaths is just a statistic”. It is impossible to identify with the sufferings of unimaginable numbers, but entirely human to identify with the plight of one. In other words, it is only by finding the human face of something that we can begin to understand the impact that it might have had.
In Epic, a piece commissioned by the Corn Exchange, we are told twentieth century Western history through family stories. The four performers use their own personal histories to tell the stories of Europe from world wars, through student protests up to the very real personal calamities of the modern age.
One of the most effective uses of this is through multimedia, with a variety of movable wooden projection screens displaying videos of pre-recorded interviews with family members. While this quite often proves to be amusing (Lucy Foster’s grandmother thinks the show is called ‘Epping’) it is understandably moving to hear brilliant tales from people who lived through extraordinary events.
The show however is not reliant on things being told first hand, and Ed Rapley delivers some brilliant Brechtian monologues. There are many references in the show to Brecht, and it is the asides like this that keep the show from being just a history lesson or an examination of family relationships; these quirky digressions remind us that this is history being interpreted rather than just told.
Scenes are beautifully broken up with sequences of dance and movement. The performers, particularly Pedro Iněs, moved with ease and fluidity, and were beautiful to watch. As a choreographer, Pia Norgin understands how to create movement that complements the rest of the show; it sits with the other scenes very well and allows smooth transitions.
Unfortunately, the pace at times did stall. I’m not sure whether this was due to the choppy nature of the show’s script, or simply its length. However when my concentration started to slip, I found that soon there would be a new scene or story to grip me again.
By using stories that are so personal, and putting so much of themselves into the piece, it is utterly impossible not to identify with something in the show. I was moved to tears as Chloé Déchery described the memories locked inside her grandmother’s head by Alzheimer’s, and the frustration that she did not ask about her life sooner. Whatever your family relationships, Epic makes you think not only about the influences from your experiences, but how the experiences of your family have also informed you. And the fact that this piece manages to do so, while also making you smile, should be a credit to all those involved.
Touring until June 9th. For more information visit www.epictheshow.com
Photograph courtesy of Manuel Vason.