The Old Library, London – until 29 April 2017
Surrealism never quite dies. It goes quiet for a while before popping up in times of absurd turmoil and stress to poke fun at and point a delicate, macabre or shocking finger at our absurd and distressed world. So welcome to Dirty Market’s new production of The Hearing Trumpet, adapted from the novel of British surrealist, Leonora Carrington, one-time lover of Max Ernst, the father of Dada but thereafter a formidable and influential Surrealist painter in her own right.
I love the way that despite dire predictions to the contrary, young companies and new venues never cease to go on appearing. This latest, the Old Library in Southwark, is a comparatively recent partnership between Southwark and that grand midwife and anti-establishment supporter, Theatre Delicatessen (notable for their conversion of the derelict Guardian building in Farringdon Road as home for a series of sparkling, pungent Theatre Uncut programmes) to turn the library into a local arts centre.
So here they are again and a fascinating space it makes in Dirty Market’s performance/immersive installation which not only boasts a small bar (the box office is a chap at a counter with a computer, a great advance I’d say on the wasteful business of actually issuing tickets), but spreads over two rooms including a collection of bric a brac and responses to the production from present day artists and poets.
We sit on benches, a frilly gauze curtain between us and a small square acting space. Initially, all is wondrously fuzzy and confusing. Reindeer plod wearily overhead on a looped video, a singer sings, trumpets sound, a weathered recorded voice emanates from old wind-up gramophone. The `curtain’ rises and an old lady – a bunch of twigs – is solemnly and ceremoniously `washed’ by two attendants in yellow rubber gloves.
Carrington’s story is one of incarceration – her own and her character, Marian Leatherby. Carrington was cruelly sentenced for a time in an asylum, sent there by relatives. But she escaped and eventually found her own metier.
Her 1950s novel converts the terror and anguish she must clearly have gone through into a surreally subversive, religiously tinged journey which Dirty Market serve up as a ghoulish charade, led by Rebecca Thorn’s wonderful Singer (blending Kurt Weillian and Mediterranean sounds), and a gallery of grotesque, masked inmates barked at by Benedict Hopper’s `Mrs Gambit’ (who also plays Mr Gambit on video as the presiding psychiatric `guru’).
Dominating them all, however, is the `winking’ nun – a gloriously madcap Mona Lisa inspired creation, played with immaculate relish by Anne-Gaelle Thiriot who, unveiled as an Abbess with devilish leanings, leads the company in a whirling dervish, bacchanalian dance.
It’s all good fun if a bit wayward. Will Marian and her fellow inmates escape their mental chains? We are all included on her/their journey, even unto hell – but we and Marian emerge, she into the snow-filled, fur-covered reaches of Lapland, free, safe and warm at last.
A magical mystery tour and formidable collective endeavour, it’s taken Dirty Market three years to bring this project to fruition, a project which for them is essentially looking at ageing and how the old are treated. There is, for instance, a beautiful booklet available amongst all the other pieces of art-work surrounding the stage space – a poetic response featuring twigs as a graphic metaphor because for the writer, that’s how old people can be seen and treated – as dried up old twigs.
Worth a visit for that alone and much more!