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Dust Pilgrim - review

Dust Pilgrim - review

Jun 5, 2015 Theatre

She smokes a fat cigar, and out pours the dust. She is the boss, the ruler, the strutting idiot queen, and she oversees the world, its emptiness, its meaningless work. Wherein our protagonist, a young woman, is made to push and pull and dodge flying bags of dust. And yet there is always change, and so the young woman escapes, encounters a magnificently frightening skeleton, and later there is a wonderfully funny vaudevillish man who introduces a ghoulish, desperately sad and decidedly odd series of individuals: people who appear out of boxes. There’s an awful lot of dust. Eventually the young woman emerges from it all smiling, and that’s a lovely moment.

Music and costumes are both tinged with a Latin American vibe, but disconcertingly so. There’s charm, in moments of the performances, although mainly the characters give you distress, anxiety, fear, bombastic bravado, so not a lot of charm. A few words. About as much story as I’ve been able to extract here, and also (with the exception of the hilariously speechy vaudeville man) with fewer words than I have used so far.

And that’s the best and the worst of it. Red Leap Theatre’s new show, Dust Pilgrim, is beautiful to behold and its actors are marvellously skilled conjurers of physical imagery. Alison Bruce, Ella Becroft and Tom Eason are all most watchable, and Eason in particular can be extremely funny too. In the hands of co-directors Julie Nolan and Kate Parker, magic moments abound and the atmosphere of sadness giving way finally to hope is finely controlled.

But it’s also dramatically thin. The company talk in their programme notes of “a daring bid for freedom” and “an epic tale of one woman’s fight for freedom”; they say they were inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and that the young woman “encounters mysterious characters” while “things are never as they seem”.

From all that, you might hope for a bigger and more compelling story arc, with depth of character and clash of character, and maybe even a degree of psychological change. But this story is elliptically presented: it’s a backdrop rather than a device to engage you in a “what will happen next” kind of way. And the characters are nameless ciphers, with the actors required to present impressions of emotional states as if they were holding up signs, rather than internally realise them through their characters.

That’s what physical theatre and devised work is, or at least, that’s often what the genre settles for. If you like this kind of work, you should not miss Dust Pilgrim. It’s remarkably imaginative and created with consummate skill.

For me, I don’t get why they can’t add depth of character and gripping story-driven action, because if they did, with their talents, Red Leap would turn this show into a triumph.

Dust Pilgrim runs until June 13 at Q Theatre Loft. qtheatre.co.nz

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