Though The Vanishing Horizon is the second Idle Motion production to visit Bristol, it was in fact devised before the company’s astoundingly beautiful The Seagull Effect, which played at the Tobacco Factory Theatre last year. In many ways this is clear: the clarity and inventiveness of theatrical expression in this exploration of the legacies of female aviation pioneers is not quite as breathtaking as in their more recent work. But this is far from a bad thing; every ensemble must begin somewhere, and this remains, almost two years after its Edinburgh debut, a most promising beginning.
The company are at their warm and tender best when imbuing delicate anecdotes with stirring resonance. Here, the standard accoutrements of travel – from battered suitcases and maps to cargo crates and paper airplanes – are used to bring to life the stories of those women who defied social convention to find freedom both literal and metaphorical in the open sky. Each vignette is approached with charm as it is realised visually; though moments of shadow puppetry tend to distance an audience from the narrative rather than draw them into it, other techniques prove unexpectedly moving. Who knew that lengths of ribbon being unfurled to become flight paths could have such a tingly effect on one’s spine?
Part of that effect may very well come from the other area in which Idle Motion excel – those red ribbons provide a fitting symbol for the company’s knack for weaving facts, figures, past, present, grand themes and intimate tales into a rich tapestry. Here, musings on the past are interspersed with a modern-day account of a young woman’s travels in pursuit of the story of her estranged grandmother in South Africa. It is this which makes the work unique – Idle Motion isn’t in the business of delivering history lessons, nor has it simply alighted on a theme and milked it for its onstage possibilities. Rather, what begins as a piece about air travel becomes – in just one hour – a paean to the interconnectedness of individuals across time and space, to the human need for adventure, and to the transformative effect of solitude.
It is fair to say that individual performances rarely shine in the same sense that the collective work does, and, at worst, feel rigid by comparison – but one almost senses that the company has recognised this. It has certainly balanced the time between image- and character-driven scenes appropriately, suggesting yet again how admirably conscientious it is in the devising process. As such, though The Vanishing Horizon is far from perfect, it marks the starting point for a potentially quite special physical theatre company. The theatrical table at which Idle Motion is angling for a seat is too often found buckling under the weight of its own moodiness – with a welcome helping of warmth and fuzz, this ensemble bring something exciting to the party.