A poignant piece and a fascinating way of creating art

Wilkie Branson has created a short film that is both animation and real life, to tell the tale of Tom and his existential life. He has done this by creating 3D models of all the sets which Branson handmade himself over the period of 9 months. All of this can be seen in the foyer followed by a video explaining the creation of the film- I would highly recommend seeing this. It is intriguing to see the many moving parts of the film including the 360-photogrammetry technique that involved taking 200,000 pictures of the set he has crafted. Then the process of Branson dancing in front of a green screen to create soft and flowing movement which then gets layered with animation to finally be ready for the film. The effect of an almost 4D experience is created by 3 screens that overlap. At points in the film, it is as though the audience has an x-ray and could see through train walls. A divine moment!

I have personally never seen a film created with such a crossover from real life to animation and it is stunning. The whole thing feels completely dreamlike and looks almost as though Tom is a vague sketch that could float away at any moment. The effect of the 360-photogrammetry, chroma key capture and digital animation, all make a wonderfully original experience.

The story of Tom is that of a man who commutes from a stunning landscape of cliffs and the outstretching ocean, to a huge empty warehouse. As he travels on his three daily trains, we see him transition from this tranquil setting into a built-up world filled with high-rise buildings and swarms of people. He sees familiar beggars but doesn’t acknowledgement them and journeys on to what feels like nowhere.

Tom sustains a dreary nonplussed expression that only makes him seem even more at a loss and in pain. The dullness of his life exudes loneliness even when numerous people surround him. This infectious feeling kept me intrigued to watch Tom. It’s true, the whole thing is very slow moving, but there is something quite heart rendering about Tom’s aimless journey everyday that keeps you gripped.

A somewhat shocking moment was when a beggar with a familiar face (who is another version of Tom) beats up our protagonist. Everything up until this point has been smooth, so there is something quite jarring about this flash of anger. On reflection it seems intentional, as Tom’s frustration for a meaningless life bursts out of him. This can be interpreted as the ‘beaten’ down persona of himself. These many different personas follow him around throughout, so that it is unclear who the ‘real’ Tom is. They all have different clothes and supposedly a different job, but the same bored expression.  This is a piece of theatre that leaves the audience’s imagination long after it ends, and holds many possible interpretations.

There is very little dance in Tom, but that which you do see is simple and pedestrian- which is very in keeping with the under-energised character of Tom. When you do get to see it finally build however, there is a sense of excitement, followed by the music that also steadily progresses throughout the short film, starting quiet and peaceful, to move onto a dramatic ending that really is sure to stir your bones. Coupled with the urgent movement of Tom now running, this moment feels powerful and could speak to each person individually.

A stimulating piece of theatre that is quietly brilliant, with poignant moments and endless sadness. Worth seeing to find your own adaptation on what Tom should do and how he is really a small part of all of us.

Wilkie Branson’s Tom is playing the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadlers Wells until 17 November 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.