Fringe Review: Revenants @ Pleasance Dome
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In a birch wood in the English countryside, Queen Mary, played by director Nichola McAuliffe, sits down to afternoon tea with actor Ernest Thesiger (Kevin Moore).
Image: Alex Brenner
For the first section of this WW2 period performance, the conversation is primarily between these two characters, with occasional interjections from Walcott, the Queen’s butler (Peter Straker). The conversation moves from politics, to arts, to history, revealing the worldviews of these individuals as well as the prejudices which they hold. As the conversation becomes more serious, tea is swapped for vodka as Mary reveals a secret which has long haunted her.
The set is a sight to behold – numerous silver birch trunks with weeping branches of varying shades of blue and green – and the lighting provides an effect of dappled sunlight across the stage. Every reference to the horrific conflict taking place across the world seems intrusive, made more shocking in this magical setting. Despite the solemn atmosphere, the beautiful set makes it seem as though this meeting is distant from the world’s problems. It appears this is a moment frozen in time, a period in which these two characters can come to terms with their guilt before returning to reality.
However, reality soon comes crashing through the birch trees in the form of black American GI, Waverley Monk (Tok Stephen). As he arrives onto the scene, injecting youthful energy into the sombre scene, the speed of the play appears to increase. The beauty of this play is that every single character embarks on a journey of recognising and overcoming their prejudices, whether this be related to race, age, gender, class, or homosexuality. The relationship between Monk and Walcott is particularly interesting, revealing differing notions of race, freedom, and power. Walcott’s rational wisdom is in stark contrast to the views of Monk whose actions are driven by fear, and a thirst for revenge and revolution.
One criticism is that there were several peculiar lighting changes accompanying key events throughout the play. The deeply emotional, poignant moments were often highlighted with bright shifting light changes and loud soud effects – instead of letting the raw emotion of these incredible actors stand alone, these effects were distracting.
The first thirty minutes of this show may be lost on audience members who do not have a thorough understanding of British history – perhaps a mistake for the international Fringe audience. However, despite this slow start, the play picks up pace and becomes a spectacular examination of power, inequality and nationality – concepts which can be easily applicable to our modern world.
Revenants is at Pleasance Dome, KingDome (Venue 23) at 17.00 August 10-14, 16-27. For more information and tickets click here.