Wednesday, 15 June 2016

More Walden @ Hidden Door

Magnetic North's adaptation of Thoreau's Walden deliberately rejects the expected dramatic tension of theatre. Appropriately for the book's meditative style - a drop-out's reflection on the healing and inspiring qualities of nature written over a century before the rise of the hippy - director Nicholas Bone has stripped back both the staging and the narrative, leaving a lecture demonstration style monologue that covers both Thoreau's philosophy and biography.

Cameron Mowat's performance is quietly charismatic. Thoreau's routines, especially hoeing his rows of peas are presented both as metaphors for the thinker's approach to life and literal activities. Using only a pile of sand, Mowat measures out Thoreau's experiment in living, allowing time for consideration of the values that the philosopher sought away from urban civilisation.

Adapting the source text into a series of connected stories, Bone offers insights and, as an introduction, a parable. Rather than dramatising the autobiography, he turns it into a space for reflection and, much like the titular pond, its depths are profound yet accessible. If part of Thoreau's interest was in discovering truth from nature, Bone's adaptation teases out Thoreau's method and conclusions. By not forcing the narrative into a familiar dramatic shape, he allows Mowat to embody the work's motif - 'simplify, simplify, simplify'.

While Bone's approach does not parade its bold choices, this subtle experiment is a reminder of theatre's capacity for intelligent story-telling and a location for thought. Hardly anti-dramatic in the sense of antagonistic, it does suggest Brecht's ideal of a theatre that engages not emotional but cerebral faculties, and suggests that tension and conflict are far from the only options for gripping performance. Its revival for The Hidden Door Festival is a treat, combining idealism with an austere and questing approach to theatre and philosophy. 

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