saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Where The White Stops
Battersea Arts Centre
22nd July 2013
Photography supplied by Chloé Nelkin Consulting
Just what you need on the hottest day of the year, isn't it? Being put in a room, sans air conditioning and being told a tale about the mythical land only referred to as the White, a Narnia-meets-Alaska snowy plain. But if it was unbearably roasting for us as the audience, we couldn't help but feel sorry for the troopers of ANTLER Theatre, all decked out in scarves, fur coats and bobble hats. Suffering for your art barely covers it.
But baking away was the only thing akin to suffering in their charming coming-of-age tale about one tomboy's quest to plough her own furrow. The group lay out their mission statement quite clearly - they "love the surreal, the fantastical. But mostly the honest." And they "like to play". All of this is on display in this devised tale that's so crisp and fully-realised that it wouldn't have surprised me to have been a silly, contemporary staging of some long-forgotten folk tale.
The protagonist Crab (Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart) is cut from the mould of headstrong Grimm girls - no Disney princess here. Okay, maybe Brave's Merida, but that's about it. Ignoring the warnings from her best friend Narwhal (Daniel Ainsworth) about the mysterious half-armed carpenter (a brilliant Daniela Pasquini channelling Absolutely Fabulous' Edina Monsoon) and accompanied by the mute Wodwo (Nasi Voutsas), she sets off, literally, to the edge of her world.
On a base level, a play about seeking maturity needs to, unsurprisingly, play all of the right notes. Director Richard Perryman and the team hit the beats and play with the themes of trust and friendship, as well as burgeoning sexuality in Crab and Wodwo's furtive side-glances and at times, charged interactions. Even if the winter-into-spring idea is on-the-nose, the sincerity in which the group run with it, and the fun it affords on the way, make it entirely worthwhile.
The fun, of course, is in the never-ending physical theatre and almost playground childishness with which they approach the whole venture. We see narrators bicker with each other in a one-upmanship that becomes a running gag for characters and actors alike. There's a giddy naivety in all they do, from the knowingly inadequate props to the fright and trepidation in the narrator's voices. But it all has a deft comic brain behind it, and the physical theatre used to signify blizzards, combined with some majestic vocal soundscapes, will put a chill down your spine no matter the temperature.
The comedy comes thick and fast, with all four of the cast pulling their weight. Woodcock-Stewart hides a sweet vulnerability behind a her blustering bravado, but essentially plays the fortunate fool or innocent abroad. Voutsas doesn't let the side down with his lack of dialogue - his expressions are frequently priceless and, as is pointed out, he has a lovely beard. And Ainsworth's turn as King Soft Face probably provides the show's pinnacle of Pythonesque humour.
There is one problem the group will face when taking this to the Edinburgh Fringe. As they probably know, many venues at the festival financially penalise any overrunning of shows - a worrying turn of events for performers who, on average, lose more than £15,000 per year overall. Granted, it was the first performance, and in sweltering conditions, but they really need to up their game to cut down their current 75 minute-plus running time. Some running montages, while nice, can get a little repetitive and while already slick, some transitions need to be speedier, with a nip and a tuck here that ensures any crowd - including London restagings - will enjoy it more. Heat is no excuse - Edinburgh broom cupboards with packed audiences (which this surely deserves) will make sure it's warm there too.
Secondly, in parts the enunciation could be clearer. Whether it was down to the otherwise delightful Battersea Arts Centre's dodgy acoustics in our space or the performers, I don't know. All I do know is that it took me a long time to realise one of the main characters was christened Narwhal rather than the distinctly less impressive Noel. But these issues are easily sorted.
Heartfelt, honest and bittersweet, Where the White Stops is an incredibly entertaining hour. With the huge number of plays, music and comedians vying for your time up in Scotland's capital, this is really worth your time. ANTLER have created original songs, myths, legends and even foodstuffs have lay the foundations for an exciting and rich universe - one that I would love to visit again.
Where The White Stops ran at the Battersea Arts Centre from 22nd to 23rd July 2013. It then ran from 1st to 25th August 2013 at the Big Belly, Underbelly, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. It next runs from 18th to 20th November 2014 at The Vaults, as part of Mimetic Festival.
Nearest tube station: Clapham Junction (Overground)