Home » Reviews » Off West End » A Strange Wild Song, New Diorama Theatre

A Strange Wild Song, New Diorama Theatre

Presented by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company

Pros: Lovely storytelling, great acting, creative use of set and props, impressive synchronicity between light, sound and performer.
Cons: I found the music distracting and it jarred with the action for the most part.
Our Verdict: This performance feels like a big warm hug. Underpinning the impressive technical mastery of the performers is a show which is filled with real heart and soul.
Courtesy of Rhum and Clay Theatre Company
Sometime around 1915, during World War I, a Belgian photographer named Leon Gimpel met a group of young children in Paris who had formed their very own army. He visited them on several occasions, helping them to build their pretend artillery while taking photographs of them at play. What is most interesting about these photographs is the contrast of fun, innocence and imagination with the horror of what surrounds them. The children also look fairly malnourished which doesn’t seem to inhibit their fun one bit. A Strange Wild Song is a devised piece based on the story of Leon Gimpel and the children who have become known as The Grenata Street Army.
The show opens with shots being fired behind various walls with bombs exploding all around us. The vocal soundscape and visual representations (using only the actors’ hands peeking out at us) sets the mood for the Lecoq-style show which we are about to see. From the outset the performers are perfectly in sync both with the lighting, the sound and with each other which is quite impressive considering how fast this show moves along. The cast consists of three performers who play three little boys, Philippe, Pepete and Jacques, who meet and befriend an American soldier who has been separated from his platoon. The cleverness and dexterity with which these characters are put forward is really very special. The employment of whistling, movement, comedy and a whole host of other elements all gather together to form the most adorable trio you’re ever likely to meet. The costumes are much like the outfits worn by the real Grenata Street Army, grubby little sailor suits and hard hats with worse-for-wear teddy bears strapped in for the journey.
Rhum and Clay Theatre Company were formed at L’École Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq and much of their work employs this physically expressive style. The performers communicate with their audience using their whole bodies which worked a treat considering these actors are grown men playing little boys. The employment of this style allows us to suspend our disbelief more easily as the actors embody the freedom of expression which is often instinctive in childhood but lost in adulthood. As the three performers ran around the stage, crashing airplanes and falling through the sky in parachutes, I never lost the sense that I was looking at three little boys lost in their own world of make believe.
One issue I had with the show was the choice of music. In itself, the music is very lovely, particularly the accordion playing, but it just doesn’t match what the performers are doing on stage. The music and the sounds the actors create themselves, like the whistling for example, felt just right for the characters and helped to create another facet to their world. However, the music – which was being supplied by one musician to the side of the stage – felt like it belonged to a different show entirely. Even the ethereal singing which was meant to compliment an incredibly sweet scene involving a little balloon served to distract rather than add to the action.
All in all, this show is pure joy. The actors work incredibly well together to create something which is not only believable and entertaining but which will melt your heart in the process. If you have young children, this show is great stuff both in terms of exciting entertainment and as a fun history lesson too.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

A Strange Wild Song runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 2nd March 2013.
Box Office: 020 7383 9034 or book online at http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/a-strange-wild-song.

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