“Translunar Paradise” at Pleasance Courtyard

Jeremy Malies in Edinburgh
27 August 2017

If drama is about the essence of what it means to be human then Translunar Paradise is among the best shows I’ve seen in 40 years of theatre-going.

Mime has never been my bag though it’s on my festival schedules often out of a sense of duty and a desire to touch many bases. I have seen too much mime that is a sequence of set pieces. The Bristol company Theatre Ad Infinitum made me think about the form in a new way though I’m unlikely to come across anything of this quality, originality and integrity ever again. The difference is that this is mime with a sustained linear narrative.

I had gone on word of mouth recommendation and until George Mann spoke to the audience at the curtain call I had no idea as to the company’s nationality. This is an aspect that makes the piece so special; it’s about courtship, love, serving in a war, loyalty to your life partner and above all bereavement and loneliness in old age. Apart from the melodies of a couple of WWII songs, there isn’t a single cultural reference throughout and yet the cumulative portraits of the couple are rich and detailed. If they were caught by its spirit, anybody from the gamut of age, nationality and demographic at Edinburgh could have had an equally deep experience from the story and cared hugely about the characters.

The three performers are Lecoq-trained but this is Lecoq merely as a way of working rather than anything self-conscious or overblown. Mann and Deborah Pugh are the mime artists who portray the couple while Sophie Crawford plays the accordion and produces sound effects from the instrument. An eerie and bewitching aspect is her own brand of scat, solfège and whistling. Mann and Pugh alternate between their young and older selves using expressive masks by Victoria Beaton of London’s Madame Tussauds waxworks.

There is not one crude or easy gag in 75 minutes but the piece is rich in humour conveying universal thoughts, emotions and the texture of experiences. Everything is so accessible that there is a constant exchange of energy between performers and audience. I can’t believe that there was a play of such transparent honesty anywhere else on the Fringe. The spell is still over me.