Monday, 10 April 2017

Review Out Of Blixen

Out Of Blixen
Created by Riotous Company
Dramaturg/Writer Paul Tickell

Behind The Veil

Cryptic yet enchanting, Out Of Blixen is a devised production inspired by the story telling and life of 20th century Danish adventuress and author, Karen Blixen, who famously ran a Kenyan coffee plantation.

Mixing verbal and physical theatre, accompanied by piano and percussion of Nikola Kodjabashia, it's a piece tailor made for the dilapidated gilt glamour of the Print Room At The Coronet and this tangential introduction to the life of this intriguing figure.

Some of her life, in Africa, has already been chronicled in a 1985 movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford but TLT and her own sidekick in theatre adventures has never seen it nor read any books of Karen Blixen (aka Isaak Dinesen)

So it came as surprise to find that Blixen wrote intricate fables - if we were to find an equivalent English author, maybe, somewhat to our surprise, the Oscar Wilde of The Happy Prince and other tales would be the nearest in our minds but also with a playfulness of Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy.

The production reflects the delicacy but sabre-edged tone of four Blixen stories and in between we have tiny fragments of Blixen's life thrown in like piercing glass shards.

Floating white voile curtains descend from the ceilings in a simple but evocative set designed by Luis F Carvalho and lighting by David Plater picking out the flashes of colour amidst the theatre's pillars and decadent ornamentation.

Flashes of colour come also with the appearance of a small girl (Kathryn Hunter who also directs) in blue Edwardian sailor dress who bonds with a young cabin boy (Marcello Magni) on shore leave before the couple are torn apart.

The piece includes integrated moments of aeriel silk work (Mia Theil Have) at a point where birds, angels and a graceful young woman on a swing meets.  Sea voyages, Russian sailors, Persia, Scheherazade-like linking of tales through the frail figure of Blixen (Kathryn  Hunter again) and the cruelties and expediencies of 18th century feudal Denmark with a mother's self-sacrifice all figure.

The latter with the well-travelled rational nephew of a Danish feudal estate owner  (Femi Elufowoju jr) who is sorrowful but keeps in mind the intial injunction of the reminiscing sailor in play's first few lines, "We must all look after ourselves!

At just about 80 minutes, this is an elliptical take on an enigmatic writer who eventually may have expired from syphilis (par for the course in the artistocratic circles into which she was born) or may have been infected by the cult of celebrity which eventually enveloped her. The piece unpacks itself like a set of exquisite Chinese boxes and we award our own jewel-like green light for Out Of Blixen.

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