Nordost

Tue 15th May 2012 – Tue 14th May 2013

reviews

Rosie Oxbury

at 22:43 on 15th May 2013

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Company of Angels’s production of ‘Nordost’ was one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. The conceit behind Buchsteiner’s play is straightforward: ‘Nordost’ tells the tale of a terrorist attack on Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre in 2002, from the separate viewpoints of three women involved. The play, however, is complex: the movement of the plot is from establishing the fundamental similarities between the women in the opening scene, through the gradual and awful revelation of the separate parts played by the trio in the crisis; in the final scenes, the end is mapped onto the beginning, as points of similarity are brought to the fore again. The result is profoundly moving and thought-provoking, raising terrible questions for modern society.

Company of Angels’s execution of this piece was nothing less than perfection. The play unfolds through the intertwining monologues of the three protagonists, and in Adam Barnard and Victoria Briggs’s rendition, this was combined with hypnotic physical theatre. Scene changes were achieved by such interludes, which was particularly effective in sustaining the attention of the audience. It is no mean feat to hold an audience for nearly two hours without a break, but Company of Angels succeeded in doing so without letting the tension slacken for a single instant – this was crucially effective in creating sympathy with the hostages, and the audience was rivetted throughout.

The beautifully crafted monologues (translated by David Tushingham) were delivered naturally and emotively by actresses Emily Bowker, Nia Davies and Ellie Turner. The appalling horror of the three women’s experiences was successfully conveyed empathetically, without straying into melodrama.

The use of music, as with the set design, was simple but haunting – it was usually restricted to no more than a few notes of a piano. This meant that sound effects, when used, were all the more effective. The set was understated; it contrasted appropriately with the images conjured up by the monologues of a lavish nationalist musical production (Designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen). The set consisted merely of a series of white boxes of varying sizes, while the cast wore everyday clothes. Nuanced use of lighting to reflect mood (Lighting Designer David Marsh) added the final touch of perfection. The whole production, meanwhile, was meticulously choreographed. Director and Assistant Director Adam Barnard and Victoria Briggs evidently share an impeccable eye for detail.

Particularly effective were the points at which the two worlds – the hijack of the theatre, and the performance in the North Wall Arts Centre – were brought together – when the description of the events in one theatre were reflected in a gesture to the theatre around us. Company of Angels exploited sensitively and thrillingly the connection between the imagined experience in one theatre and the experience happening in real time in another, in a way that heightened both sympathy with the hostages and terrorists and the atmosphere of tension.

In short, Company of Angels more than succeeded in bringing Buchsteiner’s writing to life; ‘Nordost’ was an electric production. Not one opportunity was missed for drawing the audience further into the terror of the events in the Dubrovka Theatre. The resulting creation was sublime and horrifying in equal measure.

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