Review: This Is Why We Live (Voila! Europe, online)

Produced and presented by Open Heart Surgery Theatre, this event – made available on demand at Voila! Europe – is a combination of physical theatre, music, and clowning, bringing to life the poetry of Wisława Szymborska.

Perforned in three languages ((English, French, Polish) with musical accompaniment, two actors and a cellist perform This is Why We Live in a 70 minute show. It is a celebration of both human existence and the poet herself.

Filmed with just one camera at a distance from the stage, this is not a made for digital show; instead, we struggle to see the effect of either projections or performer expressions (Elodie Monteau and Alaine Hutton are the actors, Dobrochna Zubek the musicioan and composer).

Experimental and surreal, this female-led piece forces an audience to immerse itself in Szymborska’s words, to ask questions, to see the world in which we live from quirky and unexplored angles.

There is no plot or purpose – these are fragments, memories, as they might appear in daydream or the moments of sleep we all experience each night.

Production image from This Is Why We Live

A collaboration between Canadian company, Open Heart Surgery Theatre, Tara Arts (UK) and Theatre de L’Enfumeraie (France), this is billed as “a surreal, cabaret-style performance that celebrates a great female voice of the 20th century”.

On looking up Szymborska I find she was a Polish poet and essayist who would be close to her century of life had she not died in 2012.

Widely translated, she wrote from unusual points of view while tackling large themes of worldwide significance. Her body of work is small, around 350 poems.

This Is Why We Live tackles the large issues of life – or, at least, humanity and what we do in relation to it – through tragicomic physical performance and snatches of much-loved musical moments within a wider score.

I just feel, sadly, you might have to be in the room to truly appeciate this particular artwork. I wanted to see how Zubek (who appears to be set upon a rock) plays in close-up, and how the two actors interact with their bodies, and to appreciate Wesley McKenzie’s projections.

Production image from This Is Why We Live

There seems to be a lack of forethought in the film of Coleen MacPherson’s production which leaves a digital audience feeling as if they have a ticket in the balcony of a commercial space.

It’s a pity, as this show could easily have earned another star if we could have gained full involvement in what it was trying to tell us, and been appropriately moved accordingly.

A frustrating experience as a digital show, I found this very difficult to watch and appreciate, especially considering the production shots which are available on the company’s webpage which shows the detail and props we are missing.

This show is not one to start with if digital theatre is new to you.

You can watch This Is Why We Live on-demand at the Voila! Europe festival at The Cockpit for free, although donations are encouraged.

For more on Open Heart Surgery Theatre visit their website.

** (and a half) – purely due to the shortcomings of this piece as a digital theatre work