A Strange Wild Song, Bedlam Theatre

Originally written for Exeunt.

Songs of war provide the background score for this latest addition to Edinburgh’s ever-growing Lecoq contingent, devised by emerging physical theatre company Rhum and Clay. In a piece that delicately shifts between modern day Britain and the bomb-ravaged landscape of France during the Second World War, a man is transported back to the past through the medium of a single roll of film recovered from his grandfather’s wartime camera. What it reveals is an extraordinary and unlikely encounter between the soldier and a trio of abandoned young brothers.

Warfare, dream and play are all intermingled in the scenes between the soldier and the three boys, in which a lost boy aesthetic is thrown like a grenade into the heart of the battlefield. Taking refuge from the horrors of battle, there is a creeping sense of regression into the innocence and imagination of childhood, enhanced visually by the playing of the children by three adult actors. Avoiding many of the hackneyed techniques that often plague dramatic portrayals of children, the performers fully inhabit these young roles with all the clumsy physicality and uninhibited charm of childhood.

For all this charm, however, the piece as a whole feels oddly, uncomfortably exploitative, using the drama lent by atrocity in order to create something indulgently beautiful. The choice of subject matter certainly enables some stunning moments of creativity; in the process of gameplay, a ramshackle aeroplane stutters through the air, given movement purely by the impressively controlled bodies of the performers, while in another beautiful moment a red balloon floats above the rubble, appearing seemingly from nowhere.

But where this gorgeously assembled style soars, it leaves its half-baked plot with its feet fixed firmly to the ground. Ideas about memory, war, childhood and imagination lie scattered like shrapnel, casualties of the painstakingly crafted aesthetic. More than a matter of style over substance, Rhum and Clay’s creation is naggingly problematic due to the very particular historic make-up of the substance it fails to fully engage with.

Clothed in all the now clichéd trappings of Lecoq-inspired theatre that seem to abound at the fringe – physically controlled clowning, inventive use of props, the seemingly obligatory accordion – this all feels a little twee for the environs of war-torn France. Of this spreading rash of physical theatre, Rhum and Clay prove themselves to be among the best, demonstrating exciting potential, but they are in need of a better vehicle for their ingenious visual style. Whimsy and war do not make comfortable bedfellows.