Divine Chaos of Starry Things review at White Bear Theatre, London – ‘tries to say too much’
Written by journalist and chronicler of radicalism Paul Mason, Divine Chaos of Starry Things – named after Victor Hugo’s poem dedicated to French anarchist and feminist icon Louise Michel – is a meditation on the forces unleashed by revolution.
Mason’s play tells Michel’s story. A schoolteacher, poet, and revolutionary, she is punished for her role in the Paris Commune by deportation to New Caledonia to ‘civilise’ the indigenous Kanak people. This she takes as an injunction to incite revolt. The rebellion is brutally put down, and Michel returns to Paris with a full pardon, where she publishes a book on the island’s flora, fauna and customs.
Anna Orton’s packing-crate set effectively communicates the makeshift squalor that unites the slums of Paris with the prison barracks of New Caledonia. Fiona Rigler’s layered costumes function as skins, shed with each defeat and humiliation the women encounter.
As Michel, Lisa Moorish’s eyes flicker with zeal. Robyn Hoedemaker is particularly moving as Adele, who sacrifices herself for her love of Marie. Director Sasha McMurray has the Kanaks, Koue and Mahoua, played by Jerome Ngondai and David Rawlins, haunt the margins of the space, a reflection of their marginalised role in colonial history; Rawlins in particular exhibits an exquisite stillness.
This is a sticky piece of theatre that aims to convey spiritual as well as political truths. If anything, it tries to say too much.