Friday 9th March 2018 at Harrogate Theatre.
Spanish company Kulunka Teatro’s André and Dorine is a gorgeously feeling piece of full mask theatre. One of three pieces touring the UK in The Best of BE Festival, this performance covers an expansive narrative of great depth and development in just thirty minutes. Despite its dainty running time, this piece, directed by Iñaki Rikarte, has the ability to educate and move an audience with impressively concise content. Expressing the warmth as well as the frictions within the marriage portrayed, the piece doesn’t shy away from the darker side of dementia as what is introduced as a hum-drum comfortable marriage in which the pair find the small habits of the other comically irksome gradually becomes the struggle of a sweet couple dealing with a particularly cruel illness.
The performance is an impressive three hander and cast members Jose Dault, Garbiñe Insausti and Edu Cárcamo play around six characters between them, including Andrè, Dorine, their son and others. Quick changes are slick and each character is well defined, with Insausti developing the aging Dorine with a limp and a shuffle while André is physically slow and deliberate. They are playful, irritating and loving towards one another in turn and we are instantly invited to invest in this brilliantly portrayed snapshot of such a universally recognisable dynamic between husband and wife around fifty years into marriage. André is a writer and Dorine is cellist, but both find their pastimes destroyed by Dorine’s illness, with Dorine’s loss of this source of peace being incredibly moving. The son is clouded in frustration but also hope as he struggles to support an ailing parent as well as a parent who is clearly helpless and hurting.
The piece is alarming in its gritty realism and one particular quick change offers a disturbing and affecting glimpse of the terrors faced by those living with dementia as the familiar becomes warped and threatening. The upsetting changes which take place as dementia progresses are delicately captured; the distance between the couple grows as Dorine loses memories of the everyday as well as the important people in her life. I’ve seen excellent full mask theatre before and I’ve even seen a brilliant mask piece on dementia, but I’ve never seen full mask theatre achieve the real sense of threat and darkness created so well by Kulunka Teatro with André and Dorine. But this is also a wonderfully comical performance as we are periodically thrust back in time to see the younger selves pop up to show a simpler and happier time for our married, aging and ailing protagonists. We see the couple in their youth, courting and becoming lovers in hilariously playful and cringeworthy scenes. The endearingly grumpy husband we see at the start momentarily shows us his awkward self in the midst of infatuation. While younger Dorine is confident and smooth, young André is a typical sloppy and unco-ordinated youth who is desperate to secure his mate. There is a generous helping of physical comedy in the mix of the flashbacks while the present beautifully contrasts moments of comedy with more poignant scenes which show the progression of the illness and the strain in the relationships.
Most importantly, André and Dorine illustrates the real art and expertise behind full mask theatre; masks (the skilled work of cast member Insausti) are human enough to evoke connection but remain over-sized enough to allow engagement with the fixed expression and therefore the fixed personality of the characters. Movement is beautifully expressive and communicates impressively wide ranging and complex meaning through nuanced as well as more precise movement connected to specific meaning. The piece is underscored by carefully selected original music from Yayo Cáceres to heighten the impact of key scenes and to set the tone when the audience’s understanding of the tone is most vital. Set design from Laura Eliseva Gómez places the family in a warm and plushly furnished home, with pictures on every wall which Dorine must cling to as her memory begins to fail her. As a full mask performance with no dialogue, so much relies on physicality and alternative means of expression and this company provide all the makings of excellent non-verbal performance.
Learning that André and Dorine is actually an 85 minute play which has been painstakingly chopped down to thirty minutes as per the BE Festival requirement makes me hopeful that the full show will tour too – I would love to see the story again played out with even more depth because although this piece tells a moving and layered story, it isn’t given enough space to move more deeply through greater detail and backstory. As a thirty minute whirlwind version though, this is an outstanding and feeling piece of theatre.
The Best of BE Festival continues to tour and you can find more information and ticket links here. Why not read my reviews of the other two shows touring with André and Dorine? Click here for my review of Legénde and here for my review of What Does Stuff Do?