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Borges and I – Brewery Theatre, The Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Dramaturg: Lotte Wakeham

Reviewer: Sam Shelton


Borges and I is an extraordinary piece from Idle Motion Theatre Company that threads physical fantasy with literature. Inanimate objects like coats, books and even shelves come alive to form tigers, aeroplanes, birds, bridges, and so on. With a team of artistic advisers and a talented lighting designer (Greg Cebula) this show has well and truly paid off.

This single act piece is split into two halves; the life and influences of Jorge Luis Borges and a compelling narrative of which follows Sophie (Sophie Cullin) as she falls in love only to be diagnosed with the same degenerative sight condition as Borges. The two stories set in different time periods are fused with contemporary dance, animation and a guiding narrator (Kate Stanley). Each character switches between rôles in between the narratives, none of which becomes confusing each more inventive than the next. We see Borges (Nicholas Pitt) life accompanied by a spate of thrilling animations that seem to appear in the most random places. For example a recurring image, that reflects Borges obsession with tigers, is a projection to the inside of an open book of a shadow tiger. The tiger then appears to run along the inside of a collection of books held up by the cast. This not only looks impressive but accumulates some excitement to what other lighting and physical techniques are going to be accompanying this piece. From the beginning the set seems to implode, there are bookshelves on wheels that are flung across the stage in an instant and umbrellas that open like piñatas full of shreds of pages.

The only limitation for this piece is the repetition of a kind of stutter between characters; it could be that with the inventiveness of the set some of the dialogues naturalistic elements waver slightly. Other than that each section of the piece has a subtle and poetic lining that begin to cover some difficult issues. Sophie’s impending blindness is beautifully illustrated as she balances on a binge of books and almost falls off only to be caught last minute by her lover, the brilliantly played Nick (Joel Gatehouse). Metaphors like this are Borges and I’s biggest strength.

There is a real pride here in the illusions. What comes through to the audience is an intense commitment to each rather difficult and sometimes tricky movement between scenes. The works drawn from in this play are Borges’ Labyrinths: Selected stories and other writings and Dream Tigers. In the background Borges’ quotes are heard, each sentence selected is elegant and metaphorical, it feels as if the writer was on a permanent journey. Nicholas Pitt quotes there is a point “when a man finds out who he really is.” The underlining message could be one of which a person doesn’t really know who they are until they ask these questions brought up in the piece. The show has real artistic licence and is convincingly captivating throughout. With the Tobacco Factory being one of the most interesting theatres in Bristol it would be a travesty to miss.

Runs until 2nd March 2013.

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