Out of Blixen at the Print Room at the Coronet
Good storytelling is magical. Using only their own presence the storyteller conjures entire worlds, shapeshifts before the spectator, and gifts them a precious axiom to take home. Out of Blixen has some exquisite moments but struggles to captivate the audience.
This production is based on the short stories of Karen Blixen. She might be most famously known as the subject of the film Out of Africa, which shares its name with Karen’s memoir of her time in Kenya. She received the title baroness after marrying her second cousin Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke and, due to his philandering, she soon contracted syphilis from him too. After an unhappy marriage, they separated and Karen had a passionate affair with the English aristocrat Denys Finch Hatton until his untimely death in a plane crash. The piece only glances at Blixen’s autobiography but the influence on her stories is clear. A distrust of conventional beauty and wisdom underpins the tales; instead they celebrate eccentric characters and senseless passion.
Out of Blixen gets off to a strong start. The first story is delightful – dynamic, slick and imaginative. Nikola Kodjabashia’s score is compelling and when it is fully incorporated into the action the show is a joy to watch. Unsuspecting items from the set metamorphose into new places and characters. The celebration of various theatrical elements creates an exhilarating performance.
As the production advances it encounters issues with pacing and begins to drag. Riotous Company are at their best when being playful but sadly they fail to bring the same abundance of energy and concentration to heavier themes. Physical theatre is well-suited for clowning but can also devastate with poignant scenes of passion, lust, and desperation (just look at Kneehigh’s The Red Shoes). It is a shame that Out of Blixen does not reach these states.
This is a gifted and diverse cast of physical performers, however, they are challenged by the array of characters and do not always deliver. Kathryn Hunter is a beguiling narrator but here she does not flaunt her full physical capability. In spite of their rich ability the company lack a sense of ensemble, which sometimes leads to this production feeling more like showcasing than storytelling.
Staging such quixotic stories is an ambitious feat. When the telling achieves lucidity it enchants, but these moments are too fleeting to bewitch the audience.
Photo: Dan Fearon
Out of Blixen is at the Print Room at the Coronet from 3rd until 22nd April 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Out of Blixen here: