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Journeys
Tristan Bates Theatre
4th August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for Journeys

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

When I see the word "devised" anywhere, it always makes me instantly apprehensive. Too often is it a euphemism for an unstructured mess of ideas that simply doesn't go anywhere. However, Buckle Up Theatre's Journeys is a really intelligent and carefully crafted show that will make me think twice about being so suspicious in the future. Deviser and director Michael Woodwood introduces us to four strangers on a train, explaining where they've come from, as well as letting us accompany them on their travels. It's well-thought out and executed with a huge amount of polish.

Journeys is dialogue-lite, with the different characters using grunts and silly noises to narrate as far as possible. Where words are required, they use some very basic expressions in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. None of the language is complicated, and lines are frequently repeated with a physical context which makes it relatively easy to guess at the meaning if you don't speak that language yourself. Indeed, a lot of the story is told through pure physical movement without any speech whatever - it's amazing how easily the performers can talk to us without opening their mouths. Woodwood clearly has tried to create a universal piece of theatre, capable of being understood by as wide an audience as possible.

So who's on that train? English showgirl Lola (Genevieve Dunne) has fled a disastrous passionate romance, Spanish housewife Conchita (Rosie Ward) has become accidentally embroiled in underground activity, Marco (Andrew Hollingworth) has been rejected by his family due to his bother Paolo who can do no wrong, and painter Pierre (Rob Taylor-Hastings) has had some artistic differences with the rest of the town. Marco's story perhaps has the most sadness to it, but there's plenty of daft antics in all four tales, as well as streaks of poignancy.

Although this is fast-paced physical comedy, in between each section we do hear the rather sinister sound of marching, and see projected black and white images which place the setting of this piece very much in war-torn Europe. One of Pierre's clients is a German general, hinting perhaps at the Occupation. Each protagonist is running away from some personal, individual circumstances, however collectively, we assume there's a much bigger, more important reason to flee. This darker subplot is only always hinted at, rather than spelled out - if you were to take children to see this, it would probably go over their heads, keeping it still quite PG and accessible.

The choreography is spot on, with the performers dancing with suitcases and wooden fold up chairs and never once slipping up. Taylor-Hastings and Ward contort their faces magnificently, gurning and twisting into funny expressions, with Dunne and Hollingsworth having wonderful puppy dog eyes, eliciting sympathy for their characters. Whilst there is a bit of technical wizardry required with the projection from Daniel Gronner, the staging is still relatively uncomplicated, Woodwood relying on the ensemble themselves to create the setting with their varied movement.

Journeys is one of the more unusual shows we've seen so far in this year's Camden Fringe. A few parts do feel overly repetitive and drawn out, but it's nonetheless a very clever and slick piece of clowning with fantastic comedic acting. If you miss it in London, it's worth catching the train to Edinburgh.

Journeys opened on 1st August and runs until 6th August 2016 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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