When done properly, of course, this genre of performance can be extremely effective and artistically satisfying. Just because there are a lot of rubbish imitators around doesn't mean that the real thing shouldn't be celebrated. And Translunar Paradise is very much the real thing.
His face hidden behind a characterful hand-held mask, his body crumpled with age, George Mann (who also directs) plays William, an old man struggling to cope with the death of his wife. Everything he sees – a favourite tea cup, a battered suitcase – conjures up memories of Rose (Deborah Pugh) and their life together. We see these scenes in flashback, Mann and Pugh removing their masks to travel back in time to the moment when Rose gets a new job, when William goes off to fight, when the couple suffer a personal tragedy.
The show's name is taken from the Yeats poem, 'The Tower', which Mann read after the death of his father last year, and despite the fact that the production is entirely wordless, there is a palpable poetry to Translunar Paradise. Both actors give remarkable physical performances. Their switches from old to young and back again are flawless and Mann and Pugh's characterisations of individuals old enough to be their grandparents are beautifully observed.
The downside to working with masks, however, is the distancing effect they create. William and Rose's everyman story is a moving one, but it is really only when the actors are playing the younger characters – when we can see their faces – that the show is truly affecting.
Kim Heron's haunting accordion and vocal accompaniment – at its jauntier moments giving a definite Amelie feel to the work – ties the show together. Heron shines during the unhurried scene and costume changes in particular: simultaneously playing and magicking objects in and out of the playing space, even assisting Mann and Pugh with their masks on occasion, she is absolutely integral to the drama.
Paradise may not be ambitious in narrative terms – this is, after all, just the story of a man dealing with a bereavement – but it's
stunningly executed and Theatre Ad Infinitum have created a piece of
theatre that has real heart.