Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alphonse by Wajdi Mouawad, theatre review

Alphonse by Wajdi Mouawad 4 stars
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Alon Nashman pokes his head through a hole he has cut in the front of Scotland on Sunday to show us the face of Alphonse, a boy making headline news after failing to return to the family home. This, however, is no case of abduction.
In Wajdi Mouawad's play, the young dreamer has left on his own volition. If he has been abducted at all, it is by his own imagination, which has persuaded him to venture into the countryside for days on end in the company of Pierre-Paul René, his imaginary friend.
And while siblings, friends, neighbours, teachers and Victor, a story-loving police inspector, speculate on where he could have got to, Alphonse is in a fantasy world of his own, a place where Hoovers can talk, popcorn rains from the sky and recipes need to be rescued.
In a festival that is nothing if not a celebration of the imagination, the play suggests we should nurture and cherish the endless possibilities of childhood fantasy. With its stories within stories – like the Underbelly's current Loungeroom Confabulators and the EIF's forthcoming One Thousand And One Nights – it is clearly on the side of Alphonse as he puts serious work into building his narratives.
In that, he has the edge over the adult world. Mouawad, one of Quebec's most lauded playwrights, argues that if a grown man could meet himself as a boy, he would despair while the child would be terrified. It's a powerful idea, even if he doesn't develop if very far, preferring instead to tell a whimsical tale in praise of the unknown. "No one teaches us anything about the invisible," the playwright complains.
The tone, however, is playful rather than polemical, especially in Nashman's own production for Theaturtutle. He is a bright-eyed storyteller, seamlessly stepping from character to character, be it a string of schoolmates or a talking cave, leaping on and off a table and seeming to populate the stage with a whole ensemble.
It stops short of being moving, but Alphonse is sweet and engaging and its appeal, like the story itself, reaches out across the generations.
Mark Fisher
Until 28 August

© Mark Fisher 2011

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