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Ashes review at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, London – ‘exceptional puppeteering’

Plexus Polaire's Ashes at Jackson's Lane Theatre. Photo: Kristin Aaflay Opdan
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A chill permeates Ashes. It’s a melancholic, mournful portrait of obsession that doesn’t try to explain the destructive acts it depicts. Instead, it’s a sometimes-nightmarish evocation of compulsiveness.

Norwegian company Plexus Polaire’s latest mix of puppetry and live performance was presented at this year’s London International Mime Festival, as part of a longer world tour.

Based on the same true events as Gaute Heivoll’s novel Before I Burn, Ashes entwines a writer’s life now with a spate of devastating attacks by an arsonist in small-town 1970s Norway.

Using a range of differently-sized puppets, Plexus Polaire’s artistic director, Yngvild Aspeli, skilfully combines the uncanniness of their almost-reality with Viktor Lukawski’s haggard performance as the writer, battling his own grief and guilt. His memories blur with the events he’s recording in surrealistic set-pieces.

Ashes is alive with unspoken trauma, from the writer’s cancer-ridden father birthed from the body of an elk, to Guro Moe Skumsnes and Ane-Marthe Sorlie Holen’s desolate soundscape. A string of box-like houses hanging behind the screen go up in projected flames.

The puppets – which start small, on a table behind a transparent dividing screen – have a real sense of human weight and mass, thanks to some exceptional puppeteering. As the show progresses, the arsonist breaks the divide to tussle with the writer. Who is controlling who becomes opaque.

While the later scenes of the arsonist’s discovery get caught up in an overly lengthy loop of the same chilly imagery, the production is consistently haunting.

 

Verdict
A melancholic portrait of destructive obsession combining puppetry and live performance
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