views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Journey of a Body
Etcetera Theatre
5th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Journey of a Body

Photography provided by Spiral Theatre Collective

Have you ever been told you look just like one of your relatives? In The Journey of a Body, an unnamed woman (Amaia Mugica) explores her identity, by looking back at the experiences of her ancestors. Nature and nurture combine in this imaginative new production, with the stories of the woman's forebears actually embedded in her physical attributes. Her eyes, her soft peach-coloured skin - every body part comes with learned behaviours and old memories to guide her. Those eyes aren't just like her grandmother's; they've seen the same things the older woman did.

Mugica captivates us as her character tells us a tale of one clan, then of another seemingly unrelated clan, then finds a common ground to explain how both groups of people in fact form part of her personal history. The stories she tells of distant ancestors have witches and warriors woven into them, giving a mystical, folkloric feel to her words. This unravelling of how the woman came to be is abstract and compelling. Suddenly though we seem to jump to the present day with the magic left behind and the woman forced to run though her details with an off-stage government official, over and over again. The juxtaposition behind what is effectively a fairytale and a much harsher, modern reality is jarring, with this shift in the dialogue standing out awkwardly, particularly when we jump back to where we were previously. It's almost as if for a few moments, we're watching a completely different play.

There is a clear focus on traditional storytelling, but writer and director Alejandra Chacon seizes opportunities to imbue Mugica's performance with plenty of expressive movement, making this a very physical piece. As Mugica darts about the stage, telling us of people and events from long ago, her chiffon-esque top in its drab grey colours floats delicately in the air. The colours and movement echo the gorgeous black ink and water based animations by Luis Antonio Morales projected onto the screen behind her. Morales' work is very polished and helps elevate the production as a whole. Linking together the two very different mediums of live action and animation is done cleverly. Despite Mugica unable to see any visual cues and being completely reliant on the technician sticking to the agreed timings, she is always in perfect sync.

Given this is an exploration of identity and gender, it's no surprise there are no tangible conclusions. However the journey is beautiful with Mugica delivering an intense and emotionally charged performance. She conveys her character's travels through an entirely abstract concept of time and space in a way that mere words cannot. Some of the choreography towards the end of the show is drawn out for longer than it should be, however overall, it's a charming and well-crafted vignette.

An intriguing debut production by Spiral Theatre Collective, many of the individual elements of this production are excellent. With some more clarity, they could share some very interesting stories with us. With these eyes having seen The Journey of a Body, they would undoubtedly be drawn into seeing the company's future work.

The Journey of a Body opened on 5th August and runs until 6th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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