DramaLondonPhysical TheatreReview

Where the Hell is Bernard? – Blue Elephant Theatre, London

Devised by Haste Theatre

Associate Director: Ally Cologna

Reviewer: Lucy Lambert

Where the Hell is Bernard invites us to imagine an authoritarian dystopia where occupants are drilled in obedience and productivity. Forbidden to explore or play at will, we meet the childlike members of Pod 17, locked in a mechanised efficiency; loyal subjects of an ambivalent ruler. For reasons that are not made explicit, the pod decides to break free from the commands of the disembodied voice and embark on a journey of exploration and wonder, discovering— amongst other things— literature, alcohol and parenthood.

Where the Hell is Bernard is a show that wears its influences on its sleeve. Putting aside the well-worn tropes of rebellion in mechanised dystopia from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (both of which have been successfully adapted for the stage in recent years, by theatre company Headlong and James Dacre at Royal and Derngate respectively), this production offers us no new insight into the horror of totalitarian rule. It eschews potential darkness in pursuit of comedy, relying on a patchwork of elements of physical theatre, which Edinburgh audiences will be familiar with when it transfers to the festival next month.

With companies like DV8, Complicite and Frantic Assembly now stalwarts of mainstream theatre, programmed in main spaces at the National Theatre, The Royal Court and The Lyric, ground has been opened up for smaller emerging companies to push the boundaries of physical theatre as a genre. Disappointingly, Haste Theatre, founded on the Physical Theatre MA at St Mary’s University College, relies heavily on well-worn theatrical devices. And, for a show about the profound joy of the new, it never strays off the beaten track in terms of form or content.

In addition, the delivery of the physical elements is varied within the company. Elly Beaman-Brinklow brings physical precision and expressiveness and Sophie Taylor does a lot with a little in an understated but revealing performance.

Most interesting is a thread that runs through the production about motherhood. Pod 17 reject their female ruler and stumble across ‘seedlings’; babies that are being bred to join the workforce. This opens up several potentially fascinating areas of exploration. What happens if we come to think that the mother that has raised and nurtured us is malevolent? How does that affect our response to maternal roles? There are also some exciting questions raised about what it might look like to be both mother and rebellious adventurer. Sadly, Where the Hell is Bernard fails to interrogate its central ideas and the result is a physical comedy without the laughs.

Reviewed on 10 July 2018 | Image: Rarar Su

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