What Lies Beneath

Reviewer's Rating

I don’t see the point son! shouts a man, bursting out of a tent in his pants to a chorus of monkish mountain chanting. In Romantika’s latest production, music, visuals and physical theatre combine to tell a story about the way we talk about grief. But after 60 minutes of disconnected spectacles, questions that aren’t answered, more men in their pants we’re left asking the same thing, what’s the point?

An unnamed man finds himself alone in the wilderness. He has gone there to run away from everything he knows after the loss of a loved one. We are led to assume that this is an ex-girlfriend as she appears in ghostly hallucinations. Apparently he’s suffering from hyperthermia inducing delirium, though this is never clear. She is accompanied by friends and family, again imagined, blending past and projected reality.
This loss is never alluded to directly but is give epic-tragic connotations, intended to drive the play forward but like its theme, men’s inability to talk about feelings, the attributed vagueness surrounding the death only makes the narrative impotent. Theme and narrative go hand in hand towards self-sabotage. The man has no clear objective or relatable struggle and the dialogue, mostly elevated pub banter, never hits it’s mark because it never gets to the point, because apparently men can’t talk about the point.

Romantika was founded in Tallinn Estonia with performers and creative team from both UK and Sweden who collectively devised the piece, though directed by Johan Bark. In the hushed stillness of the Space in Docklands, a former church, candles flicker and are extinguished, performers roll and bend in the dark and people chant from the altar: we feel we could be in 15th Century Estonia itself.  The design and physical movement are both impressive and strong, original and effective. I was pretty excited. But this ambitious ensemble only frames an incredible lack in the story, dialogue and premise. Too often there is a 3 minute dance piece that though pretty only highlights this lack. It’s like Three men in a Boat meets the Royal Ballet.

I had high expectations. And it started very well. It’s atmospheric, involving and genuinely funny for the first quarter.  But very British banter and gags get dry pretty quick and we’re left asking why is this man in the mountains, why is he, as his friends and family insist, unsafe, assuming he’s only up Ben Nevis or somewhere equally benign, and why should we care? Even if he has lost someone his self-exile as the last man on earth, banging his chest by the fire is an Olympian exaggeration of a mystery that is not weighty, important or clear. So finally at the end of another beautiful dance, hymns and candles flickering, we are left with no pay-off, no conclusion and no point.