The Catastrophe Trilogy @ Barbican Pit, London

cast list
Antoine Fraval, Guy Dartnell, Molly Haslund, Nina Tecklenburg, Paul Gazzola

directed by
Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan
Founded in 1997, Lone Twin Theatre is now presenting a trilogy of works that all involve, in one way or another, the themes of hope and catastrophe.

Two of these, Alice Bell and Daniel Hit By a Train, have been presented before, but the third, The Festival, is being performed for the first time.

The companys artistic directors, Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan, are leading artists in the field of contemporary performance, and in the three broadly narrative works presented here, they use monologues, song, dance and mime to explore various points and emotions. All three plays employ the same five actors, whose input into the final versions has been substantial, courtesy of the rehearsal process.
However, whilst Winters and Whelan deliberately chose a song and dance approach to constructing these works, it does not make the finished products feel any more accomplished or successful. The first play, Alice Bell, explores the life of Alice who grows up in a divided community, and, using the name Clara Day, marries someone from the other side after she is believed to have died in a bridge explosion. It is an exploration into the reasons why people love and hate, as well as into how we all have the power within us to change.

But the sticky blend of mime, singing and ukulele playing that is used to consider these ideas feels random and unhelpful. With so much of the action consisting of monologues or songs that explain the points, it is difficult to relate to, or feel anything for, the characters. We are told that the story starts with three people and two dogs, but there seems to be no reason why it needs to, other than that it enables two cast members to crawl across the stage. Similarly, though the company members are explicit in saying that they love song and dance but are not necessarily experts in the area, it feels a rather weak excuse for the repeated playing of basic and monotonous songs on the ukulele.

The inspiration for Daniel Hit By a Train was Londons Watts Memorial to fifty-three Londoners who lost their lives saving others (it also featured in Patrick Marber’s play Closer). The play describes each of the heroic acts in turn, identifying the person, and describing, with actions, how they died. However, whilst there is some variation in the way that each act is presented, the process of working through fifty-three in turn limits the wider exploration of the subject matter. As I watched the final ten being rattled through at breakneck speed, I couldnt help feeling that even the creators had got bored as they wrote the piece.

Winters and Whelan deliberately did no research behind each of the people who died, wanting the acts of courage to speak for themselves. By reeling through so many, however, it demeans each individuals achievement, and stunts the emotional impact. Matters are not helped by the rather comic miming of a person sinking with a ship, or running into a burning house, and by songs strummed on the ukulele about how I was able to save my brother but not myself.

The new piece, The Festival, describes the meeting of the 42-year old Jennifer and the slightly older Oliver at an Australian music festival. They agree to meet there in a years time, but over that year Jennifer uses her longing for him to help her to examine herself. As a result, when they do finally meet again, she is able to walk away from him, feeling that she has regained control of her life and understood what is important to her. This is a beautiful central premise for a play but, because the work is better structured than Alice Belland hence less liable to confuse, it ironically feels all the more insubstantial an idea on which to shoulder an entire piece. Nevertheless, The Festival feels the most accomplished of the three works, and when we witness a cast member pretending to be Bono or Bruce Springsteen singing, it captures in some small way the excitement of a real music festival.

When plays have been purposely constructed to explore narrative through song, dance and mime, it might seem churlish to accuse them of relying too heavily on these things. To me, however, the chosen method equates too much to explaining the plays points to the viewer, and hence stunts the emotional impact. I was, however, in a minority amongst the audience in feeling this, and if you do wish to see the plays, you should find the experience more all-embracing if you attend on a Saturday when you can catch all three in a day. If you do, be sure to join the walk to Postmans Park after the first to see the Watts Memorial for yourself, and, above all, dont miss the creators question and answer session where you will hear some very different views on the works to the one presented here.

The plays are being shown individually on consecutive weekday nights between 2 and 12 March. All three are being shown together on Saturday, 6 and 13 March. Further details can be found at

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