The title says it all: it is about photography and war, photography in general and the war photographer Robert Capa in particular. That is, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, his partner, who died young and became one of the many women who get forgotten by history, drowned as they are in their man’s achievements.
Gerda was lucky in one way: Capa kept her photographs in a special red case, which turned up many years after their deaths – her work was the inspiration for ‘Shooting with Light’, one of the most interesting and moving plays I have seen in a long time. It is a short play, running only an hour and twenty minutes, but it packs into that time, the whole history of a life, a relationship and an art form.
The action shifts back and forth between the Spanish Civil War and the present day, when Capa’s brother and an assistant are organising an exhibition of his work and searching for the mysterious ‘red case’ that holds something that Capa has made clear was of the greatest importance to him. This play is so well done that although we know what is in the red box, we are still involved in the mystery of its disappearance and long to see it revealed. When it is and we see Gerda’s photographs in this context, that is, in the present, having been present in the past, with the knowledge we have shared of their creation well, it brought tears to my eyes and I don’t think I was alone.
The visual images were stunning, as one would expect in a play about photography, but the script itself was vivid: Capa’s meeting with Gerda, both of them penniless in Paris, was instantly alive with their mutual passion, for their work and for each other in their work.
‘In the middle of the action that’s where you get your best pictures- don’t worry about taking the perfect pictures’ – he advises Gerda – in a dazzling scene where the techniques of photography continue to bind them together as they fall in love. The dialogue was technical and artistic, while the physical attraction was simultaneously clear, like photographs which told the steps in the development of love.
The flow back and forth from past to present was seamless and clear – as the past walked into the present and the movement shifted into static poses so whole sections of the play looked like a series of photographs.
Shooting With Light did not shirk the hard questions about war photography: is there something obscene (but essential) about photographing people in pain, fear misery and death, and yet otherwise how would we know? These questions teased my mind throughout.
Capa had a talent for capturing people’s struggle, I suspect largely learned from Gerda, in her reaction to photographing the random killing: ‘People with no choice, ordinary people who’ve done nothing wrong – to photograph a dead baby riddled with bullets ? How can you stand there’ she asks ‘and take photographs of the maimed and the dead, of women and children and old people, all innocent, caught in something not of their own making?’
‘People need to see what we see,’ he says.
She answers sadly and reluctantly, ‘I know’
Gerda’s death in Valencia was done with beautiful simplicity as in a long slow shot of her stilled body before the focus moved to Capa finally weeping as he was suddenly aware of what it means to face the death of someone one loves.
The set was stunning – a large picture frame, made up of smaller frames, like a photograph album. Indeed it was used to display photographs but the sections also moved fluidly as doors, windows, corridors, hotel rooms, train carriages and in one remarkable moment, even as a bed, remaining upright while Capa and Gerda lay on it standing up so we were looking at them as it were , from an odd camera angle. The lighting, too, changed the period as well as the scene.
The outstanding quality of the production I would say was the unity of every aspect of it, including the acting. Indeed, the cast seemed to have stepped out of a period photograph album themselves, so accurate was their sense of time and place. Altogether this was a fascinating, beautifully presented evening, meticulously researched in every detail, ensemble work in the best sense of the term. Applause to everyone involved.
Review by Kate Beswick
Shooting With Light
In 1934 a young German refugee flees to Paris and discovers the genius of photography.
She reinvents herself as Gerda Taro, becoming one of the pioneering women to photograph the front line. In this startling and visually rich production Idle Motion expose one of the most remarkable untold stories of our age.
Today we live in a world where our lives can feel like they are defined by our collective Kodak moments. With the compulsion to capture it all we are flooded by a myriad of images. And yet within the 2.5 billion photographs taken every day, there will only be a precious few that we will continue to hold on to.
Described by The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner as ‘a brilliant emerging company’, Idle Motion use innovative staging, physicality and multimedia to interweave the dramatic stories of photographs undeveloped, scattered and unearthed: This is a story about capturing moments, freezing shadows and the photographs that outlive our memories.
Tue 24 Mar – Sat 11 Apr @ 19:30
Saturday Matinees @ 15:30
Monday 30th March 2015