views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Vaults
20th February 2014


Josephine Hepplewhite

Photography provided by Laridae Performing Arts

It's always gratifying when the result of a Kickstarter project is something which did indeed deserve to happen. Backers of SOLO, you should be proud of yourself for making the investment, it's paid off. Following an earlier run in Athens, interdisciplinary company Laridae have redeveloped SOLO into an exciting English-language piece which fuses theatre, dance and song into an expression of, quite simply, love. It's one woman's journey, with the highs and lows you would expect.

Taking place as part of The Vault Festival in one of the small rooms hidden away under Waterloo, SOLO is well-suited to the intimate repurposed space. This is a show which should be seen by lots of people - it is worthy of such attention - but you can't help but feel some of the magic would be lost in a more conventional theatre with a greater seating capacity.

Choreographers and performers Dimitra Barla and Josephine Hepplewhite dance and narrate their movement with adaptations of Greek poet Maria Polydouri's words. Although largely performing in different spaces, the two women are linked by recitations at the same time, and mirrored dance shapes. Hepplewhite is - at least, initially - a more innocent and hopeful representation, with Barla more knowing, despite the women's clothing suggesting it is Hepplewhite who is from a later period.

Lighting designer Anna Sbokou and set and costume designer Tina Tzoka dress the room in soft, romantic light, with garlands of flowers suspended from the ceiling and a strand of ivy nestling on the back wall. The mixture of red and white petals is beautiful and evocative, reflected in the colours worn by Hepplewhite. There's a hint at the romantic with a lace top, but with a very modern haircut and trousers, it's clear not only does Hepplewhite occupy a different plane to Barla, but a different time. Barla wears a long, flowing, pale dress straight out of Emily Dickinson's era.

Josephine Hepplewhite

Photography provided by Laridae Performing Arts

Andrei Ionescu's original music is hauntingly melancholic, with each note blending gently into the next. You can hear the emotion in his playing, the simple but important difference between a merely competent pianist and a very good one. When he sings - and you have to bear in mind he plays for ten minutes without any other sound breaking the air - it's an unexpected but welcome delight, his silky voice and evocative lyrics helping to draw you into the dream world that Laridae have created. Ionescu first passed under our radar as an actor in a short play, but as a live musician, you can't help but notice him, his performance skilfully combines every aspect of his craft.

As mentioned, there is a good few minutes of piano playing and no action, and given the fondness on the fringe scene for almost "pre-show" shows, it's unclear as to whether this is part of the piece, or merely a warm up to cover the latecomers. The two dancers begin at opposite ends of the traverse space, and the lack of signalling makes it awkward for the audience, constantly looking left and right to try and spot the start of the "real" performance. With Barla directing as well as performing and choreographing, it's understandable as to why this detail was missed, but it would be helpful for her and Hepplewhite to begin fractionally closer together, so both are at least in the audience's peripheral vision, or even to just hint at the beginning with a shift in lighting.

This is however one minor grumble which is quickly forgiven and forgotten. The half-hour which follows is thoroughly transfixing, so much so that when the piece does end, it feels like some unwelcome noise has stirred you from a pleasant dream, and you want nothing more than to let slumber take hold of you once more. SOLO is ethereal, magnetic and perfectly judged. It's an exciting piece, which hopefully will be picked up for another run elsewhere.

SOLO ran from 18th to 22nd February 2014 at The Vaults.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee)

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