Friday 9th March 2018 at Harrogate Theatre.
In the short Lègende, one of three pieces touring the UK in The Best of BE Festival, Romain Teule toys with language to the point of twisting it into an auditory rubix cube. It’s fascinating to hear that the piece was originally created in Portuguese before a native English speaker assisted French-Portuguese speaker Teule in translating it for English audiences. Beginning with the sounds of birds and an oddly comic false start, this linguistic shapeshifter manages to make an interesting point by the end of it: language is, of course, malleable and for non-native speakers, any language can be something of a tricky and untameable beast. The somewhat vague and experimental premise offers an academic type who is studying the ‘language’ of birds. In doing so, Teule’s piece suggests that translating the language of birds is very much like attempting to translate a human language you’ve never known – as a speaker of multiple languages, he has a depth of understanding when it comes to the relationship between written and spoken words. The piece demonstrates the fascinating results of how written words can be transformed almost unrecognisably when spoken aloud but equally, how written words spoken aloud with unfamiliar pronunciation with misplaced stresses and sounds can be oddly recognisable.
Our ‘academic’ reads out his ‘research findings’ like a malfunctioning dictaphone reporting back a recording – pronunciation either offers up whole new and often hilariously unexpected meanings or non-sensical meanings which are equally entertaining. Teule performs the whole thing in the tone of a professor deep in thought – pregnant pauses feel loaded with intense contemplation as Teule frowns and taps his fingers which only serves to heighten the hilarity in the right places. In the intimate setting of Harrogate’s Studio Theatre, we are presented with a man in his element and his intellectual territory; desk, paper, projector, mic and whirring brain. Periodically returning to his mimed twitching binoculars, he eyes up the audience as specimens for research – it’s amusing to be under inspection in this way and his very deliberate actions acted with emphatic import offer up his subject intriguingly.
While highly inventive and even while offering up interesting ideas around language and meaning, the piece does as times slip into that sense of puzzlingly highbrow surrealism as he suddenly abandons his desk to twirl, twist and contort his body into unknown shapes. No sound is offered, so it’s just a bird-like man playing physical Tetris with no clear or easily accessible meaning – there may be something being said about non-verbal and non-auditory language but the movements are too vague and bizarre to suggest anything specific. In a piece about the difficulty in understanding verbal and auditory language, it feels a bit lost and random and the odd physical diversions from the genuinely entertaining and intriguing exploration of language don’t add very much – he’s already impressed by this point so attempts to add extra strings to that bow are surplus.
Overall, Lègende feels very unique and avant-garde – sometimes morphing into a ‘high brow’ production with meaning beyond mortal fathoming, but it is certainly amusing and probing with its subject matter, even if it is a little perplexing with some of the more outlandish aspects of the performance.
The Best of BE Festival continues to tour and you can find more information and ticket links here. Click here for my review of What Does Stuff Do? and here for my review of Andrè and Dorine, the two other performances touring alongside Légende.