‘All around him, for as far as he could see, lay a rough land strewn with rocks, with not a drop of water, nor a blade of grass. Colorless, with no light to speak of. No sun, no moon or stars. No sense of direction, either. At a set time, a mysterious twilight and a bottomless darkness merely exchanged places. A remote border on the edges of consciousness. At the same time, it was a place of strange abundance. At twilight birds with razor-sharp beaks came to relentlessly scoop out his flesh. But as darkness covered the land, the birds would fly off somewhere, and that land would silently fill in the gaps in his flesh with something else, some other indeterminate material.’
The above passage from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage bares quite a resemblance to Wodwo, the Bristol Old Vic’s Young Company production being shown in the Studio this week. The show, which circulates around a Ted Hughes poem of the same name, oscillates between abstraction and narrative. Frogs belch; wolves whimper and a young girl goes searching for her father in the woods. Like all the best woods, these ones turn out to be both deep and dark and full of semi-articulate animals ready to both aid and disrupt her journey.
Similarly, like all woods in fairy tales and beyond, the possibility of reading it as a metaphor for taking a trip into the subconscious is also there. In fact, both Wodwo the poem and Wodwo the play can be read as a metaphor for, in particular, adolescence and this befits it being performed by such a young group of actors. The Bristol Old Vic Young Company is made up of actors between the ages of 11 and 24 years old and all of them seemed to be injected with a quiet and mature dedication to their talent.
Adolescence is not only a time when your body changes, seemingly stealing parts from other people or animals, but also a time when you are peculiarly and uniquely sensitive to the world. The bluebells in the wood never look so blue as they did when I was 13, neither does it seem so much like a massacre witnessing daisy heads being chopped off by the lawn-mower anymore. Adolescence is when people start waking up to politics and philosophy, pondering what will happen when the sun and the moon stop working one day and militantly ensuring the green box is filled with the correct waste each week. Without resorting to cliché, Wodwo is a great exploration of these themes and others and being performed by young actors gives it a quality of honesty.
Although the narrative is compelling and our heroine suitably Lucy Pevensie-esque, the best parts of the play are the abstract parts where colour, choreography and lights dominate. The main aim of theatre is often ‘to tell a story’, but it was nice to see a company not take this so literally and not be afraid to explore a theme and a narrative in a much looser fashion. By doing this, music and dance were not relegated to being only supporting props of the spoken dialogue. Instead, they were integrated into the performance in a diplomatic fashion that more companies, both old and young, should think about employing.