Original review: Underdog Reviews
Heartbreakingly, beautifully human
‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes –’: what pain – grief, loss, despair – is up for interpretation, poet Emily Dickinson wasn’t explicit, but for anyone who has experienced that fearful, emotional paralysis in the aftermath of pain, it’s undoubtedly true. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s tender and infinitely touching Translunar Paradise expresses these feelings without uttering a word. As a husband bids goodbye to his wife, their heart-breaking, beautifully human memoir is told through mime, music, and movement as a mask – literally – for his grief.
The formality of everyday life unfolds even after death: hunched, hobbling and breathing heavily, the husband returns home and makes tea, but even seemingly simple moments are haunted by what’s missing. Consciously or instinctively, he takes out two cups, even though only one is needed now. As the widowed William – as well as the writer and director – George Mann is weary and restless, tapping his fingertips to the ticking of a clock, but his performance isn’t without moments of muted humour, as when he hurriedly spoons a small mountain of sugar into his teacup.
Yet, Translunar Paradise intersperses formality with lyricism, as the present-day fissures into the past in a series of freely expressive pas de deux that explore everything from making tea to love-making. As the wife, after death Deborah Pugh removes her mask and walks into the light – simple but moving design from Peter Harrison – and moves effortlessly from aching old lady to lively young woman, and is mirrored by Mann’s own mask removal as he relives their memories, and his youth, with her. Mann and Pugh’s performances are not only immensely moving, but charming and technically impressive, especially when in perfect time with actor-musician Sophie Crawford’s multiuse accordion and yearning, yodel-esque soundtrack.
The style, structure, and storytelling may be simple, but it’s this searing simplicity that makes Translunar Paradise so strong. The masks, from Victoria Beaton, are the most detailed element of the design, but they are also immovable, masking the emotional depth beneath them with an impassive expression, as formality does in the aftermath of death: it masks, not mends. Dickinson’s poem ends with her reflecting on the reality of those feelings – ‘first – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go’ – and it’s the last, that letting go of grief, that Translunar Paradise, through its own poignant depiction of love, loss, and letting go, lets us do.