Vigil is a poignant one-man show that urges you to consider the impact of humanity on the world around us. Created by Bristol-based devised theatre company Mechanimal and presented in a new ‘online’ version with the support of The Pound Arts Centre in Wiltshire, Vigil blends physical theatre, projection, sounds and poetry to create a unique, deeply reflective journey focused on the devastating relationship between humans and nature. The original stage piece was supported by Bristol Old Vic Ferment, University College London, Arts Council England and Pound Arts, but was unable to tour in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The show has the performer, played by Tom Bailey, encounter twenty-six thousand species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’ within the space of an hour. From the Bali Tiger and Dusky Seaside Sparrow to the Cinnamon-coloured Cryptic Treehunter and Song Wren, all these creatures are on the verge of extinction and the audience gets to meet all of them. “Vigil is a mix of fun, movement, sadness, laughter, beautiful sound… I hope this is a space to reflect on the impact we are having on our changing planet.”, says Bailey who has created the piece with Guy Jones assisting on direction.
Right from the get-go, Bailey hooks you in with sharp, precise and at times, humorous choreography (designed by Philippa Hambly) that brings these exquisite never-heard-before creatures to life for the audience, perhaps alluding to the fact that our ‘superior species’ has a lot more in common with animals than what meets the eye. This movement is complemented spectacularly by a projection design by Limbic Cinema and sound design by Andrew Cooke that sets and drives the rhythm of the show. With a minimalist visual of a good ol’ projector screen that cycles through the name of many different species of animals, this succeeds in creating a sense of urgency and direction for not only the performer in the space but also for the audience watching at home. Particularly moving are the sequences wherein the “list” of species is cycled through in a fast, maniacal speed that allows us to appreciate (and be warned about) the sheer magnitude of the problem that confronts us, as well as the sequences where the visuals are punctuated by sounds of gun fire, suggesting that humans aren’t just an innocent bystander in this mass extinction event.
Mechanimal adapted ‘Vigil’ into an online format by adding a layer of outdoor location shooting that effectively connects the ideas the piece explores with the tactileness of nature. Led by Director of Photography Jack Offord and Camera Operators Matthew Joiner and Michael Sides, the added cinematic element succeeds in creating a stark contrast between the performative world of the show (shot within the studio) and the actual world it is commenting upon (ie the outside). The fluidity captured in the outdoor frames is complemented by the gentle presence of the performer in the studio space (where the lighting design by Will Leighton comes through strongly) and the result is a deeply impactful film wherein even the silences say a lot.
To summarize, Vigil is a powerful, poetic journey that captures the devastating impact of humans on the world. It leaves you with a gamut of emotions as you find yourself in the middle of the next big mass extinction event that confronts us now.
You can access the video-on-demand version of Vigil on Pound Art’s website for free here until 31st July – https://poundarts.org.uk/whats-on/online-content-vigil/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 10th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★