The Joan, October 15
When The Big Blue was hatched in July, Q Theatre’s young Originate team didn’t even know if and where they’d be able to perform it. Given this leap into the unknown, perhaps it was apt that the show took its cues from space and deep-sea exploration, opting for a theatre of sound, vision and ideas, rather than of narrative and character.
The 11-strong cast, director Nick Atkins and assistant director Margaret Thanos collectively devised the show from scratch. The inherent danger of such a process is the curse of all committees: the triumph of the lowest common denominator. Of course it can also result in such wondrous creations as Theatre de Complicite’s mind-bending A Disappearing Number, but The Big Blue neither scaled such theatrical heights, nor plumbed such philosophical depths. The ideas spat and spluttered in your brain rather than exploding, and the performances were modest. Yet you felt the warmth of the intent in your bones as the show kept rebooting your expectations, and it contained moments of pure magic. What the team couldn’t manage was to make the magic consistent.
Using the Joan’s western foyer, the actors, dressed as aircraft cabin crew, employed mime, ad-lib interaction and direct address. Twice we donned headphones and once eye-masks to increase the immersion, as we listened to Hope, an automaton hosting our trip to Mars, and Gazza, hosting our simultaneous journey to the bottom of the sea. Hope’s restful voice – something of a female equivalent of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey – engaged us with such cheery insights into the human condition as, “Fun fact: most humans believe that their lives will be forgotten and are ultimately meaningless.” Gazza, alas, was just a humourless, inanity-sprouting bogan.
The real enchantment came when we were led into a blacked-out room with mobiles of glow-in-the-dark coloured rods, amid which wafted a woman whose costume hybridised astronaut and deep-sea diver. Then we returned to the more prosaic foyer to continue a show largely about its own process of development: daring to step into the unknown. The performers, however, largely failed to do that themselves, and an amateurish edge crept in because they didn’t fully believe in what they were saying and doing. The show would instantly have been more compelling if they had.