RSC Other Place
Created and directed by Gemma Brockis and Wendy Hubbard, this intriguing piece makes the most of the Other Place’s other places while bringing aspects of the English Civil War to life.
Playing without an interval, an ensemble of interchangeable actors leads the audience through facts, masques and vignettes from the 1640s as viewed through the eyes of, well, an ensemble of interchangeable actors.
It’s clever, never dull and – thanks to the strolling from scene to scene – there’s plenty to look at.
Although there are times when it’s a struggle to pin down any clear narrative in the play, there are some individual moments which really grab the attention. These, more often than not, are visual images rather than bits of spoken script.
Early on we are treated to a lengthy narration against which three masked actors move toward the audience at a barely perceptible speed, gradually transferring weight from one foot to the other as they eat up the remaining space inch by inch. Damned if I can remember a word of the spoken text, but the creeping threat of the image will stay with me for a long time. Movement – under the guidance of Ingrid Mackinnon – plays a far larger role than speech.
The same can be said of a wonderful sequence in which the actors, with the help of a few still-life props, strike a series of Old Master poses rendered almost canvas-like by Matt Peel’s Caravaggio strength lighting. Memorable images winning again over any quickly-forgotten dialogue.
And the same victory for the eyes over the ears happens throughout a great beheading scene where the wandering audience becomes, well, the audience.
Melanie Wilson provides music which is, like the rest of the piece, always fitting but never truly settled. Charlotte Espiner’s designs are excellent, making full use of the conventional space and the extra stops along the journey.
One of the inherent problems of moving an audience around is that attention can so easily be lost. That doesn’t happen here. And while there are times when the play’s central message fades out of view, there is plenty here to see and enjoy.