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Manchester theatre reviews

Epic: History Making?

Epic by Foster & Déchery

performed at greenroom

Reviewed by Simon Belt May 2011


The pitch for this show definitely intrigued me:


'Epic will go on a quest for History; the big one, written about in books, the one with World Wars in it, with memorable dates and names you learn at school, but also the personal one, the human one, the one you can relate to.


This is a playful and experimental journey through twentieth century history, combining personal stories, fanciful re-enactments of key historical events, video interviews with eccentric relatives, and a cameo from Bertolt Brecht.' 


I approached the performance thinking it would be in the tradition of the people's history approach - trying to understand and explain history from the perspective of ordinary people and how they create history rather than it being created for them. My experience of people's history or theatre from the 80's was dull so I was pleasantly surprised at how theatrically adept the performance was, and also, recognising how dull our times are historically, how strong the yearning to make some history or be part of something grander spoke through the production.


The show opens up with touching clips of video recordings of family members of the cast reciting some memories of what seems like a by-gone age, and sometimes, a quite alien and exciting time of important social changes. That is except Pedro Inês, who apologises for having no surviving national history prior to democracy in Portugal 1974. The epic, as I should have realised, related to the Brechtian use of drama as a medium, to present popular themes through experimenting with form to create an avant-garde modernist realism.


Epic: History Taking?The performance was decidely playful, experimental and touchingly intimate, just as the promotional blurb promised, though the mix did unnerve my sensibilities. The switch from big picture historical moments of change to the way individuals experience those changes as they live through them - from the 2nd World War and changes to the role of women in work, the impact of the civil rights movement in 60's America or establishment of democracy in Portugal in 1974 - certainly made you think about these relationships, but ultimately left the picture of why historical change happened unexplained. Clearly this wasn't meant to be a history lesson but the treatment of history with such playfulness was disturbing.


Having said that, the disturbing character of its playfulness was delightfully driven home with some exquisite choreography, and integration of dance and music with the very personalised story telling. From the direct and frank way the cast told their stories, I felt a profound sense of them wanting to connect with something bigger than the cast currently were a part of. There was a palpable yearning for some history in the making they would be able to say they were a part of, and almost embarassment that our generation couldn't match the older generation's stories of struggle and change.


This was most starkly posed when Lucy Foster takes on the persona of pioneering civil rights activist from 1950s America, Authorine Lucy Foster. This came about as she searched for her name in Google and realised the impact she'd had on the world paled before that of Authorine's and couldn't imagine that she'd be able to do anything grander herself. Katherina Radeva’s set design works a treat to elegantly facilitate the production, it's the performances of Chloé Déchery in reciting events of 1968 Paris and then Lucy being Authorine that dominate the show and drive home the need for us to create some history of our own. 


Editors Note: Whilst we're on the subject of the relationship between art and politics, the Manchester Salon is organised a discussion entitled 'Valuing the arts' looking at 'how the arts sector can ensure quality in the midst of dramatic budget cuts' in June.


Chloé Déchery is a French performer and theatre-maker based in London. Her practice leans across disciplines of Live Art, experimental theatre and movement. Chloé has presented solo performances, guided tours and site-specific pieces in festivals and venues such as Arnolfini Bristol, Forest Fringe in Edinburgh, The Junction Cambridge, The Burton-Taylor Studio in Oxford, BAC, Toynbee Studios, Shunt, Oval House, Siobhan Davies Studio, and also internationally in France and Estonia. As a performer, she has also worked with Improbable, Anne Bean, Sheila Ghelani, Gerry Pilgrim, Rajni Shah and Nomad Theatre. 

Lucy Foster is a director, writer and performer. She is an Associate Director with Improbable and was recently in their show Panic, which toured to the Barbican and Sydney Opera House. Lucy’s solo work, including her most recent show Oh My Green Soap Box, has been shown in many venues across London, the UK and beyond, including Oval House, Camden Peoples Theatre, Shunt, BAC, The Junction, The Burton-Taylor Studio, Pleasance Edinburgh and the Sophiensaele and Hebbel am Ufer theatres in Berlin.

Edward Rapley is a live artist and actor who makes theatre, 1 to 1 shows and installations; specialising in playful solo work which is often joyous and painful at the same time. His recent solo works include Who Knows Where, The Middle Bit and 10 Ways to Die on Stage. Ed is a Supported Artist of The Basement and an Arnolfini Associate Artist.

Pedro Inês is a Portuguese performer, based in Amsterdam since 2003. He has collaborated with artists including Ivana Muller, Nicole Beutler, Keren Levi and Viljam Nybacka in music and live performance. His works investigates the politics of collaboration, notions of community, group dynamics and folk music.  Epic was originally developed at Battersea Arts Centre and commissioned and co-produced by Newbury Corn Exchange. This tour has been supported by Grants For the Arts via Arts Council England.

Creative Team:

Devised and performed by: Chloé Déchery, Lucy Foster, Edward Rapley and Pedro Inês. 

From an original idea by: Chloé Déchery and Lucy Foster.

Dramaturgy: Sharon Smith and Mike Tweddle

Lighting Design: Martin Langthorne

Video Design: Ian William Galloway

Composition & Sound Design: Bob Karper

Choreograhy: Pia Nordin Design Associate: Katherina Radeva

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