Neck of the Woods

Neck of the Woods is HOME’s offering for MIF15.  And this is truly a collaborative production, in the best spirit of the Manchester International Festival, bringing together visual arts (Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon), world class music (pianist Hélène Grimaud) and spoken word (written by Veronica Gonzalez Peña, performed by Charlotte Rampling), and backed by the MIF Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir.

Despite the visual prominence of a wolf skin both in promotion and during the play, Douglas Gordon explained in a recent interview with the Guardian that it’s not about real wolves at all. It is more to do with the metaphor of the wolf. There is the history of the she-wolf, but mostly wolves represent a bad man.

The performance starts in total darkness with only the sound of chopping wood.   And this sums up both the good and the bad in what follows.  The scene creates an emotion, a feeling of fear and also of place, and a slowing of time that drives the production.  If I could have travelled this emotional journey for the whole 90 minutes this would have been an incredible experience.  But this intimate connection is hard to sustain; some of the silences feel forced, the pace of the text is inconsistent.  Charlotte Rampling does not give enough of what is behind her character as the frightening truth of this story starts to open up.  There are too many times when the piece loses its audience.  And once the audience starts to drift from the story, you feel it, especially in the intense silences that are created.

What you take from this production is the feeling that you have witnessed passages of true brilliance.  Hélène Grimaud’s playing is outstanding, enhanced by the dark mood created around her.  As Charlotte Rampling talks in time with the music you see what rhythm and beauty the words have.  Her movement in the spotlight, either alone or unable to escape the wolf, is superb.  The visual theme of red blood and white snow is unsettling, powerful and beautiful, and defines the performance.

Where a production asks the audience to go on an intense emotional journey, any flaws will be ruthlessly exposed.  It has to be perfect to work.  An ambitious production that just needs a little more time for each of the elements to gel.


Photo credit: NOTW H Grimaud and Charlotte Rampling Studio lost but found VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2015 Ninon Liotet

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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