Translunar Paradise, The Pit, Barbican, London

 

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise is a show about death and memory. A hit at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, it comes to London as part of the London International Mime Festival. Director George Mann plays an elderly man coping with the death of his wife (played by Deborah Pugh). Told in mime and music, it’s a touching portrait of grief, sometimes muffled by a loss of clarity.

Mann and Pugh hold naturalistic elderly masks up to their own young faces. We see the couple setting off for the hospital, and Pugh slipping away as Mann holds her hand. She literally slips away, moving away from the bed and leaving him holding her mask. For the next scenes, she watches him like a ghost, wanting to support him in his grief.

At home, he starts to make tea, and automatically gets down two cups. Defiantly, he goes on making tea for two, only to find his invisible wife stopping his hand. As he slips back into memory, they take the masks away and fall into the past, remembering past jokes about tea-making. Musician Kim Heron stops playing the accordion, and starts singing and humming, changing the quality of the soundtrack as we move into the past.

In different flashbacks, we see this couple’s life together: arguments, making up, his time at war, her miscarriage. From cradling her own body, Pugh crumples when she realises she’s lost the baby. In grief, she stands raising and lowering the side of the cot he had made.

His departure for war is beautifully staged. He takes off his flat cap, pulls himself into an upright military stance, tries not to turn back too often. They stand side by side to show their different perspectives as he leaves by train. She reaches up to give him a keepsake; he reaches down, bending over a difficult train window, as Heron makes the train’s chuffing noises with her accordion.

The past and present are shown in naturalistic gesture but – especially in the cramped sightlines of The Pit – I sometimes missed what they’re acting out so carefully, losing track of what was happening. The time frame is also confusing: were they a young couple in the 1960s or 1940s? The costumes and music choices (from “We’ll meet again” to “The Girl from Ipanema”) suggest both. A few scenes are blurred or lose focus, but the sense of a shared life is very moving.

Until 21 January. Box office 0845 121 6839. www.mimelondon.com

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