Pad­dle­ball, death, and magic cre­ate His­tory THE­ATRE

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

THE HIS­TORY OF THE WORLD (BASED ON BANALITIES)

By Johan De Smet and Ti­tus De Voogdt. Di­rected by Johan De Smet, with Ti­tus De Voogdt. Pro­duced by Kop­ergi­etery and Richard Jor­dan Pro­duc­tions, in as­so­ci­a­tion with The­atre Royal Ply­mouth, Sum­mer­hall, and Big in Bel­gium. At the York The­atre on Fri­day, April 27. Con­tin­ues un­til May 5

There’s a lot of bore­dom in 2

death. Philip (Ti­tus De Voogdt) is os­ten­si­bly car­ing for his dy­ing mother, but when we en­ter the the­atre to see The His­tory of the World (Based on Banalities), he’s al­ready scam­per­ing around his on­stage kitchen like a vexed fe­line.

Though her sleep­ing form is only glimpsed through an up­stage door­way, Philip’s mother looms large. She’s been stricken with Alzheimer’s dis­ease and has re­turned home from her work as a physi­cist at the Large Hadron Col­lider in Switzer­land.

Philip’s grand­fa­ther was a ma­gi­cian at a sea­side ho­tel, and so his world-view is in­formed by his mother’s sci­en­tific ob­ses­sions and his grand­fa­ther’s more ephemeral ones.

This Bel­gian play ex­plores fa­mil­iar ground—how sci­ence and magic are two sides of the same coin, and how they form a ten­sion be­tween the known and the un­known. Philip’s ram­bling mono­logue starts on the topic of ap­ples, which leads him to Isaac New­ton, par­ti­cle physics, and, seem­ingly, all points be­yond.

The “banalities” of the play’s ti­tle sounds at first like a bit of poor trans­la­tion from Flem­ish, but it’s apt. The set, a hum­ble apart­ment kitchen, is cov­ered in stuff. The coun­ters are piled high with dirty dishes. Chachkas line shelves along the walls. In one cor­ner, there’s some lug­gage. In another, an old turntable.

De Voogdt touches it all. Each ob­ject, like a fetish, un­locks new mem­o­ries of the chilly, com­plex re­la­tion­ship he had with his ail­ing mother. They were, he says, “like two trains on dif­fer­ent tracks”.

A charis­matic per­former, De Voogdt is a body in con­stant mo­tion. Along with jug­gling all those props, he park­ours his way around the set—chairs and ta­bles, and, on one oc­ca­sion, in­side a cup­board. Then there’s a series of magic tricks he per­forms. And don’t get me started on the on­go­ing game of pad­dle­ball. De Voogdt han­dles all this busi­ness with ease and delivers a straight-ahead and mus­cu­lar per­for­mance.

The show is scored by guitarist Ge­of­frey Bur­ton. Though he’s mostly off-stage, we first see him as a shadow loom­ing over Philip’s mother’s bed. Later he creeps on­stage, mood­ily lit and in a hoodie, look­ing a bit like an axe-sling­ing De­men­tor. I heard a lot of Pink Floyd and a lit­tle Slash in his riffs.

What does it all add up to? A muted med­i­ta­tion on grief, loss, and a son’s loy­alty. Be­tween the skulk­ing guitarist, Philip’s sleight of hand, the kitchen-as-jun­gl­e­gym, and the brainy mono­logues, I left the the­atre feel­ing like the play was less than the sum of its parts.

Yet the whole pro­duc­tion had such con­fi­dence that I also won­der if I’m at fault. Did I just miss the point?

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