Review: The Life After, Bristol Old Vic Young Company. Bristol Old Vic, February14-16 2013. 7/10
THEY may be near the start of their fledgling stage careers but that doesn’t mean the members of the Bristol Old Vic Young Company are afraid of a challenge.
And in The Life After they took on one of the most challenging subjects of all - death - with a verve that would have sent the Grim Reaper running for the hills.
Featuring a massive cast of 120 - most of whom seemed to be on stage together at some points - the 90-minute production showed ambition, imagination and invention. It was devised by the cast themselves, under the guidance of a small adult creative team.
Telling the story of a boy who refuses to accept the impending death of his mother, it took the audience from an insular village, where everybody knows everyone else, to enchanted forests, lakes and a mountain populated by wisecracking goats.
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Among the impressive set pieces were a puppet vegetable patch, whose inhabitants mourned each plant plucked for the soup pot, and a bicycle ride where houses and people sped from foreground to background.
But most memorable were the appearances of Death himself, both as a billowing mass with a ghastly human face and as a giant mask with a body comprised entirely of black umbrellas.
Sometimes the ambition of the story, and the need to accommodate performances from such a huge cast, meant that the dialogue became a little stilted as it was stretched out to fit a dance or other elaborate action. And at times it was difficult to hear lines from some of the performers, who had yet to master the ability to project their voices. But these rough edges were the exception, with most of the roles, leading and supporting, performed with talent and vigour.
Most of the audience were there to see children, relatives or friends on stage and would be all too aware of the hours of effort and reserves of creativity which had been poured in. But even those of us watching the show with no personal allegiance will have come away impressed.