Handkerchief of Clouds and The Gas Heart – Review

by Marian Kennedy / londontheatre1.com

This show of charm and verve was performed to a packed audience beneath a narrow proscenium arch in the elegant gilt and mirrored salon of the Romanian Embassy. Intended as a celebration of one hundred years of DaDa, the international avant garde art movement producing, among other artists, Marcel Duchamp, and originating in Switzerland and Berlin as a reaction to the the outbreak of the first world war. The movement rejected contemporaneous cultural and intellectual conformities, including those of the bourgeoisie and colonialism, linking these to war and corruption, had political affinities with the radical left.

Much still to relate to these days then.

The performing and visual artists of the Da Da movement valued spontaneity and intuition more than reason and logic creating an environment for the poetic surreal to thrive at best, possibly running amok as nonsense at worst.

The Romanian director of this show, Cristian Luchian, is aware of these extremes and keeps what might be tricky Da Da accessible to his audience by cleverly interweaving two plays, first staged in 1924, as a performing collage. The first provides a love narrative while the second is almost entirely surreal. One grounds the other,
giving the audience a framework to hang onto.

As a result, we were not entirely cast adrift by the surreal, never gave up paying attention although we may have taken a rest during some of the more extreme moments of surrealism. There was always however, a sense of liveliness in the production to maintain a willingness to engage. So as to notice the questions rushing by, such as, what is love? Is poetry true to life or is it true only to itself? And how do individual words resonate when they stand alone? Are they poetry too?

The high standard of talent and sheer likeability factor of the six Romanian performers, many of whom sounded as if they were native English by the way, kept the audience onside. The conflicts between a whimsical romance with a handsome poet and the more prosaic attentions of a stolid banker were very nicely played by Cristina Haraba, Cristinel Hogas and Gabriel Mansour. While Maria Alexe, Alin Balascan and Andrei Costin worked well together to bring meaning as well as fun to the more random Dadaesque elements of the show. Heaven knows how these three learnt their non-sequential lines but all tribute to them.

There was a very funny section of the show when the audience is invited to get involved in some of those tricky questions about love. This ends up with opera being sung on stage to an electronic beat. This worked brilliantly, describing the overlapping connections between the past and the present.

The very effective projections and lighting by Leonard Bacica brought a sense of place and atmosphere beyond the room, amplified by the dynamic soundtrack created by DJ Tyrrell.

This performance was a showcase for a most appealing ensemble of talent, a tribute to the creativity originating in Romania, which London is currently lucky enough to benefit from.

Review by Marian Kennedy / londontheatre1.com