Thursday, July 18

The Last Pearl – Traverse Theatre

This is the last stop on the ’24 tour for The Last Pearl, via Sligo, Dublin and Glasgow. It is a unique show which almost defies review in the theatrical sense, with no words at all but still plenty to relish. The Blue Raincoat Theatre Co.’s voyage started in 2016, hailing from Sligo, Ireland, clearly with an eye to the horizon, devising, amongst others, new works on explorers Shackleton and Darwin.

This is a dreamy production which feels at times more like a yoga session for the senses than a theatrical experience. Some exquisite visual memories await the viewer, enhanced by appropriate sound affects; the quiet sea, the sandpiper, the whisper of wind or, in the turn of a moment, the howling gale and the lashing waves.

Here, in the opening scene a long strip of fine silk cloth is transformed, with the flick of a wrist, into a billowing wave, which will stop your breath, with the help of some magical lighting effects. One cloth becomes three, the waves synchronised and mesmerising, rippling across the stage in unison. So beautiful, and yet so simple, like nature.

In this treat for the senses, the story is an appropriately simple one. A young woman lives in a fragile stilted house amid a collection of similar tiny houses surrounded by bobbing boats. Reminiscent of Hemmingway’s The Pearl, we see the young woman sailing out into the wide ocean then diving and swimming down to the ocean floor in search of clams, and their hidden treasure.

The fleet of boats returns and as darkness falls the tiny lights from tiny windows are the only sources of light within the vast void of the auditorium. You can hear a pin drop, it is as if the whole audience is holding its breath, and then a gasp as stars appear on the backcloth. It is such an evocative scene, stunningly and beautifully created,  you can almost hear the collective awwwww.

So many visual treats here, no more so than the beautifully performed underwater puppetry accompanied by the gurgling concussive roar of white noise that is the underwater world. The hypnotic swaying figure darting here and there over the ocean floor looking for her prized clams but instead finding only rubbish speaks volumes. You can feel her anger, her disappointment with humanity. The puppet figure moves with the pulsing swell and beat of the ocean amid the wheels, plastic containers, and umbrella frame that swirl around her.

When a storm and rising seas lay waste to the rest of the stilted village the woman is left alone in the vastness, still looking for that one elusive pearl that can change everything.

The five performers on stage do a tremendous job of bringing this watery world to life under the assured direction of Niall Henry, but special mention should go to Sound designer Joe Hunt for the absolutely beautiful soundscape, and kudos in spades for super sensitive lighting by Barry McKinney.

Whilst a little slow and contemplative at times, this is nevertheless a visual feast which focuses on the sounds and beauty of nature, and beguiles and provokes because of, not in spite of its verbal silence. As the song goes, sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 6th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.