The VOLTA International Festival at the Arcola Theatre presents a range of new plays by award-winning writers from across the globe, working with British actors and directors to explore what it means to live in a multi-faceted, cosmopolitan world.
Included in this programme, artfully selected by Artistic Director Andrea Ferran, is I Call My Brothers by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, hamlet is dead. no gravity by Ewald Palmetshofer, Ant Street by Roland Schimmelpfennig and Caught by Christopher Chen.
I saw hamlet is dead. no gravity (dir. Andrea Ferran) and Ant Street (dir. Amelia Sears) last night as part of this season, and was presented with plays that simultaneously challenge and amuse. In hamlet is dead. no gravity, there is a sense of history repeating itself. Four old friends meet ‘by coincidence’ and attend the funeral of Hannas, a mysterious young man that is never presented yet frequently referred to, for, we are told, ‘everything changed after Hannas.’ This nihilistic play, in which ‘heaven is a machine’, questions our concepts of hope, love, and death, in which the characters continually grapple to find meaning in their relationships, and failing that, in themselves. Even seemingly solid institutions like ‘family’ become buzzwords that, through constant repetition, sound rather empty. Yet the constant striving for the light at the end of the tunnel, and the desire to ‘tap out’, to ‘take a break’ when it all becomes a bit much (which the actors consistently do, giving this a play-within-a-play feel), is the very thing that makes us human, cementing our place within the broader life cycle that we inhabit. Director Andrea Ferran has the actors shifting between scenes to different positions, moving soundlessly through their lives, on different levels, towards – what? Either a better future, or inevitable death.
Meanwhile, in Ant Street, Schimmelpfennig explores what happens when you obtain the thing you want most in the world. A mysterious package arrives on the doorstep of a Chilean family – one that grandfather has been silently waiting for – for 42 years – and its anti-climatic contents appear mundane, laughable even: a teaspoon, blonde wing, pen, calendar and a mustard jar – wrapped in an old newspaper which forebodingly announces the arrival of the ‘Sanchez circus.’ Yet these items are magical – the teaspoon has a million flavours, the jar is a bottomless mug of liquor and the wig enables you to fly. But our characters, whilst naturally thrilled, are in danger of being destroyed by their objects and the power that they wield over this naïve, rather bored family. Be careful what you wish for, warns Schimmelpfennig in this rather grotesque comedy: for you might just receive it.
The acting across the board is fantastic, once again revealing the high standard of London theatre. In both plays, naturalistic speech patterns merge with complex concepts, and the actors rarely miss a trick, often moving between quick-fire dialogue at breakneck speed. Comedy is perfectly nuanced and juxtaposed with the dark themes underpinning the plays, which in turn is reflected nicely in the set, where black wooden beams, sparseness and stairs (in hamlet is dead. no gravity) meet tatty sofas and smoky silhouettes (in Ant Street). With eerie soundscapes and flickering lighting accompanying the dialogue, both plays immerse us in a world that is of our own making, and certainly made me question whether the ‘Ausgang’ sign in hamlet is dead. no gravity was really a figment of my imagination, not least because an escape from the inherent futility of our desires seems rather impossible in these intensely thought-provoking productions.
Review by Amy Stow
VOLTA presents hamlet is dead. no gravity
by Ewald Palmetshofer
3rd September to 12th September 2015
Something’s rotten in Mani and Dani’s childhood home. Bine and Oli got married, but did they make the right choice? Kurt has a secret, and his wife Caro knows it. Hannes is dead, but who pulled the trigger? With cruel comedy, past recriminations and sensational revelations, Ewald Palmetshofer presents a dark vision of a family in crisis.
VOLTA presents Ant Street
by Roland Schimmelpfennig
3rd September to 12th September 2015
A snowstorm in a heatwave. A mysterious package delivered forty-two years late. A young man who speaks the poetry of the Gods. And a girl who can fly. Something strange is happening in Havana. Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Cuban fantasia imagines a family gripped by a miracle and a neighbourhood unsure of its future, seduced by dreams of the past.
Friday 4th September 2015