“Are you sure you can cope with a show by the people who did The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik,” someone asked me when I told them I was going to see this. Probably not, I thought. I’d heard the stories of audience members, two years ago, leaving the venue in tears. I knew I’d probably be doing the same today, but sometimes it’s a small price to pay for seeing a great piece of theatre.
Not that Tim Watts, Arielle Grey and Chris Isaacs’ latest piece is all doom and gloom. Like The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, it’s a seemingly effortless fusion of animation, puppetry, shadow and mask work that sets up magical characters and worlds before undercutting them with something more tragic.
This time, rather than journeying to the bottom of the ocean, we travel into the fragmented mind of an old man as dementia spreads and his memories take on a life of their own. A tent becomes a horse, a wanted poster reveals his face, and a figure with a large net is hunting for more than just clouds.
Our hero is a lone cowboy wandering the deserts of his past in an alternative Western. He doesn’t want to die, you see, and he’s not going to without a fight. This is the tragedy – one that ends with a quintessential showdown with death. Meanwhile, the more upbeat stuff comes from everything he’s trying to cling on to – the simple joys of being alive – and the fantastical landscape, lit by the starry night sky.
At times, dementia seems less sad; more a psychedelic adventure into the unknown depths of the subconscious. At others, it feels real, upsetting and final, evoked by the, almost invisible cast’s heartfelt performances along with haunting original music by Rachael Dease. When the end does come it’s made all the more moving because we know it’s inevitable. The man is reduced to an inanimate walking stick, coat and mask, ready to be folded up and tided away.
One minute he’s an animation, the next a performer, the next a puppet, the next just a single white light: a soul. However, behind him, the stars are still flickering in a galaxy far bigger than any single individual, and there is comfort to be found in this – that we’re all part of the bigger and wondrous process none of us really understand.
Written for The Scotsman