Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Sirens of Titan in Oxleas Wood

London Bubble are a South London theatre troupe who have been going for many a year now. They specialise in the risky (given the unpredictability of the English summer climate) pursuit of the outdoor performance, guiding the audience to the various spots where scenes are to be played out. They obviously know their manor like the back of their collective hands, and such an approach has the considerable side pleasure for locals (and this is the general area where I grew up) of imaginatively transforming familiar, everyday locales, taking what’s already there and using it as suggestive theatrical props. In the wood and parkland settings, this makes it all feel like an extension of childhood games of make-believe. Climb up to that branch and you cross over into another world. That pond over there is the home of a many-tentacled monster which will drag you down into bottomless depths if you disturb its slumber. This is an element which is present in all theatre, no matter how ‘grown up’.

London Bubble have already tried their hand at adapting Terry Pratchett to the terrain of the green spaces south of the river, having put on their version of Lords and Ladies some time ago. This year they’ve chosen to adapt the work of one of his spiritual and stylistic forebears, Kurt Vonnegut, boldly opting for one of his early SF novels, The Sirens of Titan. This has always been one of my favourite novels, ever since I read it by the shore of Lake Windermere in my early teens. It has a definite flavour of Pratchett and, particularly, Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, both in its tone and its philosophical pessimism, tempered by a wryly humorous outlook towards the absurdities of human behaviour and the uneasy contemplation of the possibility that life, the universe and everything might be bereft of any deep meaning. One of the main characters in Sirens of Titan even shuttles back and forth between Earth and Betelgeuse (although Vonnegut gives no hint as to its pronunciation). Both Adams and Vonnegut might have fun pointing out the crazy way that human lifeforms are prone to act, but their satire is underpinned by a deeply romantic yearning for life to be less destructive, for sanity and good sense, compassion and sympathy for one’s fellow players in the cosmic comedy to prevail. Even if they concluded that this has thus far proved a vain hope, they were never ready to give up. The Sirens of Titan is certainly a timely adaptation to present, given its message about the emptiness at the heart of the pursuit of vast wealth, the vain comforts of fundamentalist religious belief as an answer to the basic problems of life, and the need for human companionship and love above all.

What part of Hilly Fields Park will be used to represent the barren plains of Mars? Will the tea hut at the top of Oxleas Wood stand in for Winston Niles Rumfoord’s palace on Titan? Will they ignore one half of the never work with animals and children adage and have Winston’s dog played by a real mutt? How will they go about portraying Salo, the little three-legged alien from Tralfamador? Just how do you depict a chronosynclastic infundibulum? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Here are the remaining dates…
3 - 9 August (no show on 5 August), Oxleas Woods
11 - 14 August 2010, Hilly Fields Park

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