Friday, 17 February 2012

Animated Exeter - Forkbeard Fantasy's Projections

Exeter Cathedral - the night screen
After the darkness the light. Last year’s projection by Tundra* onto the stone and stained glass screens of the cathedral as part of the Animated Exeter festival offered a sombre kaleidoscope of the city’s savage mythologies and deep, bloodsoaked history. This year, theatrical wizards Forkbeard Fantasy, fresh from their recent residency on London’s South Bank, presented an altogether more cheerful progression of images. The show, entitled EvoluMental, was nothing if not ambitious, encompassing creation, evolution and the development of modern civilisation, but the tone was humorously buffoonish throughout. The Forkbeard folks behind the curtain, or scaffolding, started off by lighting the Northern Norman tower in flickering reds and greens, as if renewing the gaudy daubs of the cathedral’s medieval heyday. We glimpsed a white coated figure prowling the arched length of the nave, passing from one pointed gothic window to the next, sometimes peering close up through the panes, sometimes dwindling into a distant shape in the shadowed interior. He erected step ladders to inspect the stained glass, and added the odd touch of colour here and there. As if one person wasn’t enough for the job, he effortlessly split off, forming a trinity, a jobbing deity in the materialist, no-nonsense mould of Richard Dawkins. Not so much the blind watchmaker as the painter and decorator on the clock.

More white-coated loons - Vision On
This divine technician emerged enlarged, blown up on the outer buttressed walls, and lumbered to the tower with a pot of paint in hand. He proceeded to sketchily brush out a corrugated series of steps, graduated in gravity defying Escher angles, which formed a neat visual rhyme with the crenellated rim of the tower. Having created the stairway to heaven, he ascended it in bent-kneed strides. At this point, visions of Vision On inescapably sprung to mind. Memories of Tony Hart’s large instant landscapes and figures, created with a few lines and curves and drawn with football touchline markers; and the madcap, backwards antics of Sylvester McCoy, Wilf Lunn and David Cleveland. The whole show had the scrawled, hand drawn look of something created instantaneously, in the moment, with whatever material or tool (crayon, marker pen, splashy poster paint) came to hand, in the inspirational manner of the late, great Mr Hart. The music, with its playful moogy blurts and squelchy rhythms furthered the associations, and acted as a further contrast to last year’s moody, broken stepped dirge by Beth Gibbons.

Happy head - a benign manifestation of the green man
Once our white-coated, rationalist Creator had reached the heavenly heights, we were treated to a potted evolutionary parade; the balloon forms of paramecia and amoebae pulsing and dividing, ferns and bromeliads climbing up the stones, across which crawled, swam or flew cartoon worms, snails, pterodactyls, gumby dinosaurs and villainously snarling sharks, devouring and morphing into one another in a vibrant Bob Godfrey manner. With a neat bit of incidental serendipity, the shadow of a woman walking her dog joined the parade, fitting in perfectly. It all culminated in the appearance of a rather goofy looking Adam and Eve, who shook their fig leaves in an Edenic boogie on either side of the square tower. This innocent couple was replaced by a Green Man, a reference to the many foliate heads to be found inside the cathedral (at the expense of a cricked neck), which last year’s projections also drew on. This model was more akin to the dim ogres found in Terry Gilliam film, however, grunting with slow, dim-witted befuddlement, chronic and everpresent indigestion suggested by moog sounds at their most flatulent.

Roger Livesey's Blimp - writ large
The hand of our Creator appeared from the top of the tower and pushed this creation down into the clay from which it had emerged, and from which it might one day rise once more. In its place was raised a walrus-moustached, blustering Colonel Blimp character, like Roger Livesey as we first see him in Powell and Pressburger’s film. He harrumphs, harraws and hops about, his elaborately whiskered phizz replaced by various gurning gargoyle heads from the cathedral’s gutters. None of these prove satisfactory, however, and the hand of the Creator once again emerges to discard his unsuccessful experiment, crushing him down like an empty coke can. Civilisation blossoms like lichen across the walls, ranks of buildings creating geometrical mazes through which Wacky Races cars carom, crashing in jagged, starred speech bubbles haloing the word ‘boom’. After the smoke clears from this autogeddon, the Creator climbs back over the crenellations (a word you can’t use too much), trips and tumbles ignobly down his graffitied staircase and falls flat on his arse. He picks himself up, dusts himself down and musters a little ruffled dignity for his final bow, tagging the words ‘The End’ on the ancient walls. Good show sirs and madams. And one which will be repeated over the weekend.

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