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All This Must Pass at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Every once in a while British Theatre elevates itself to its true purpose – a format for truth-telling about the inescapable folly, mishaps and regrets of human existence. What grants this format its power is a tragic protagonist with a flaw that relates to universal themes.

All This Must Pass - Credit Free School Lunch Theatre.
All This Must Pass – Credit Free School Lunch Theatre.

Shakespeare was heir apparent to this truth-telling format that underpins the whole of Greek Tragedy. He used it to cast light on global truths of personal conceit and fatal errors in human judgment, ie King Lear’s obsession with appearances and subsequent renouncement of worldly goods, and Hamlet’s inconsolable grief culminating in revenge, obsession and death.

All This Must Pass masterfully pays homage to The Bard by putting these themes to work, albeit in playwright Aurelia Gage’s circuitous tale of one woman’s obsession with historical events awash in waves of injustice and human suffering.

When we meet our protagonist (the superb Aidan Morris), golden-tressed, and dressed in shiny pink fabric, she is posed stiff, near lifeless, and reminiscent of a marionette with jointed limbs waiting for a puppeteer to jolt her to life (Choreography Keeley Peers). And jolt she does in quick bursts of energy and staccato movements. What is it she’s trying to say?

She pauses to speak intimately to her audience, demanding it contemplates the brevity of her own life and the lives of her ancestors who’ve gone before her. And what a crew of maniacal, sorrowful brethren they prove to be.

She traces her lineage back to Charles VI of France, a 14th-century great-great-grandfather, also known as Charles The Mad.

Much detail is given to this obscure king who descends into madness, neither bathes nor changes his clothes, is covered in leeches and believes he’s made of glass. Why does she spend so much time exploring Charles’ life and, in a subsequent ancestral search, the life of a female relative who acted as an accuser in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692?

Continuing on, she traces relatives who perished in the 1845 Potato Famine in Ireland, and the carnage of the First World War, which is accompanied by an overhead recording of a lengthy, dictionary-style explanation of shell shock.

This recording assumes the audience is either ignorant or unschooled, or its younger members will never have heard the term ‘shell shock’. The explanation is too laborious and needs to be cut.

Now, a moment to discuss the originality and power of this play.

Each historical account of ancestors long since dead is interspersed with the same captivating, marionette-style dance our protagonist used to say ‘hello’, accompanied by a melody that strikes deep in the consciousness. And there is a line she uses repetitively to cut through her reverie. It is simply: And I’m back in the room.

In her final telling of ancestral history, we come to what many consider to be the ultimate godless horror of the 20th Century: the Holocaust. She speaks a line in German, which I cannot faithfully recall. But the essence is that ‘If the Holocaust is part of God’s Grand Design then there is no place he can hide from me.

And then, nearing the play’s end, and with a shake of her head to clear the cobwebs, the line ‘And I’m back in the room’ intrudes repeatedly.

And at this point we get it, the unseen puppeteer forcing her to engage in the dance of life, the parade of ancestors she will never know and why she bothered to immerse herself in detail – and I’m back in the room – the effort to stay present amidst an inconsolable loss.

And we’re with her in the room, and the tears flow because we’ve lived through a regret that can’t be healed or undone. It’s Shakespeare all over again – the global truth that speaks through personal tragedy.

All This Must Pass will enrich your life. Only on for a few more days at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre.

5 Star Rating

Review by Loretta Monaco

A woman embarks on a quest through time and space, travelling for hundreds of years through distant lands to discover how she came to be. She traces her family history through The Salem Witch Trials of Massachusetts, The Potato Famine of Ireland, the cataclysm of World War 1 and events that barely left a scuff on the face of time. She discovers celebrated heroes, despised criminals, defiant women and shattered men – all as the dread of the present day draws ever closer.

This one-woman play explores our connection with the past to better comprehend a reality that seems impossible. The woman looks to the ghosts of her ancestors, arming herself with their stories, as she slowly loses the child inside of her. All This Must Pass tells the story of the invisible forces that make us, love for those we haven’t faced, and how we too will one day be a ghost in someone else’s story.

WRITTEN BY: Aurelia Gage
DIRECTED BY: Aurelia Gage

OTHER CREATIVES: Starring Aidan Morris, produced by Chiara Wakely, assistant directed by Adelina Uglow, lighting design and tech support from Bethany Manicom

Booking to 8th January 2023

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