This was a strange piece of theatre, one quite, quite different to much of which I have seen of late. For starters, the set is unbelievably intricate and complex; a work of art, many works of art involved in each stylized prop and costume. How strange, when show after show the fashion is for simple, almost sparse sets. How refreshing. Then there is silence. Long, exquisite, exhaustive, pauses. Space enough for you to shift uneasily in your chair. Space enough for the world outside to fade.
Talya Rubin (devisor/writer/performer) and Nick James (co-devisor/director) have made a strident piece that is at once a homily to old muses and an exposition on guilt, redemption, regret, inevitability, lovers and love, greed and revenge.
This is not cookie-cutter theatre, sometimes it was stilted, difficult, awkward, weird and overly strong. The flipside of that coin is brave, unusual, daring. It is true, I was challenged by this performance. It was not palatable, chewy. It had a bucketfuls of charm, but nothing was made easy for me. It moved between disparate worlds without regard for my comfort.
This is complex theatre. It is not a musical immersion of colour and light that is easy on the palette like a soft-fruit sorbet. At times, it felt like an awkward dinner party where at least three of the guests have their own axe to grind. I think it will be appreciated best by those who appreciate stagecraft and playwrighting – upon leaving, I went home to refresh my knowledge of Chekhov, so as to dig a little closer to the artists intention.
I am struck by the fact that another performing artist is making apocalyptic art. Artists are a kind of coal-mine canary, taking the measure of the zeitgeist, reading the world, foretelling the coming weather. These plays are about the end-of-times, a deep tremor that is becoming omnipresent in our cultural psyche. This theme is never overt, but between the momentous imagery, the congruent narratives, and the strange madness of birds, there is food for thought enough to make a feast.
And I remember that Chekhov himself was born in a time-between-times, although they could not know it then. It was the time of Russian emancipation, in which serfdom was rescinded in the empire, at time of great upheaval and positive change, and yet the slow grind of life, the relentless dampening of human spirit was still in harsh focus in all of his work.
Rubin has absorbed that relentless feeling, and taken it to a new and misty place in the Bluebird Mechanicals.
A mystical world, and underworld, and other-world, created painstakingly by intricate cupboards and surfaces, by boxes that move and trolleys that slot into one another. There is something macabre and faintly threatening about how Rubin uses olde-fashioned toys and trinkets to play-act scenes, whilst literal and visceral projections provide an eery POV of the character. I am reminded of the chaos butterfly – one small action here having terrifying consequence for another elsewhere. It’s almost like playing God.
Time moves, stands still. The narrator tells us our future. She has something to say. She has gone to great trouble to craft the tale. She has come a long way to tell us the story. We had best listen.
Images by Samuel James
Talya Rubin Writer / Co-devisor / Performer / Visual Concept
Nick James Co-Devisor / Director
Hayley Forward Sound Designer
Richard Vabre Lighting Designer
Corrinne Merrell Set Consultant
Nancy Belzile Object / Miniature Consultant
Mark Swartz Set Builder / Cabinet Designer
Bryony Anderson & Mathieu Rene Puppet Makers
Christopher Baldwin Bird Costume Maker
Campion Decent Dramaturge
Sam James Video Designer
Elise Baker Production Manager
Brandon Duncan Head Technician / Mechanist
Sasha Wood Technician / Mechanist / Operator
Alex Cossu Operator