Hypnotic Poetry In riverrun At The Shed

Intense - Olwen Fouéré in Riverrun (credit Colm Hogan)

Intense – Olwen Fouéré in riverrun (credit Colm Hogan)

A performance described as a ‘sound-dance’ could go one of two ways. It could be a quirky piece of theatre that is uniquely brilliant. Or it could be one of those moments where, despite your greatest efforts to engage with the material, you find yourself at sea.

Of course, this could be the exact point of ‘riverrun’, an adaptation of the voice of the river in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. “The river life generates a powerful transformative energy as she dissolves into the great ocean of time” promises the sell-in material. In practice, what we have is an admirable 70 minute solo performance from Irish theatre-maker Olwen Fouéré, a silver haired firebrand of a stage presence, who whooshes her coat menacingly and inflects a mostly English language speech with eccentric words and foghorn noises. It’s not an experience to forget. We let the words such as ‘bug cotton falump trampa trampa’ wash over our ears while staring at the Dalek-like stage lights on the ceiling (not looking at the stage was a strangely effective way of getting into the mood).

Hard though it is to compare this performance to anything, and tough to put an opinion without having read Finnegans Wake, we’d still hazard that there is limited power in performing a fictional river through sound alone. Wind noises blown into the microphone got a bit repetitive after the first time round and we were disappointed there was little evocation of the river itself, visually. Stephen Dodd’s crafty lighting did cast intriguing shadows, however – Olwen’s slight figure became twin trolls inhabiting a Hobbit-like river underworld. But overall, the experience was a bit like wandering into a Martian language lecture where the tutor glares at you, evoking feelings of guilt and inadequacy for not understanding. We enjoyed the playfulness of the National Theatre, asking us to chalk up our most meaningful words on a blackboard in the foyer; the words ‘sod’ and ‘bron’ providing a suitably Tolkienesque full stop to the evening.

riverrun is at The Shed, the National Theatre, until 22 March. Tickets £12 / £22

Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.

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BelindaL

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