Review: No Woman’s Land. Lakeside Arts. Nottingham.

Rosie Garton and Ildikó Rippel, performing as Zoo Indigo, conjure up No Woman’s Land from a field of memories, experiences and imaginings. They present them in a collage of media, from film and projections, to song and tap-dancing, and create something surreal and striking.

Performing at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts, Nottingham for just one night, the women take us on a journey. It was a journey they took themselves in 2015, retracing the steps of Rippel’s Grandmother, Lucia Rippel. In 1945 she was forced to leave Poland and walk over 200 miles to Germany with her two young children. Garton and Rippel re-created the walk carrying life-size cardboard cut-outs of their own children. Lucia had one suitcase of belongings, one pram, no food and no money. The family ate leaves from the fields and begged for scraps in any town they passed through. The modern day vehicle for telling this story is a pair of treadmills, the digital landscape changes but on they trudge. The rhythms and repetitive movements on the treadmill build and converge with discordant accordion music to create tension, anxiety, threat.

Meantime, Garton and Rippel present a dazzling array of comedic talents and charm, which cleverly dissipates the tension. Some gentle tinkling on the piano and lounge-bar singing create a laid back mood and a warm welcome. The quirky presentation is effectively a ‘kabarett’, a satirical revue, with a knowing nod and a wink. The humour continues as they paint on beards and joke about what it is to be a man. And then reveal that dressing as a man was a form of protection from the Russsian invaders, who would regularly rape the villagers. It is unpredictable and edgy and one cannot be comfortable, but it is funny.

The use of both English and German languages reflects the unique pairing of the duo and reflects on the story they are telling. Cultural identity, displacement and ideas of what home means, are presented alongside mundane moments from their own experience of motherhood. Original cine film from the 1940s is mixed with video of their own journey and various digital projections, creating an ever changing background to the performance. Matt Marks plays piano, guitar, accordion and sings along, a sort of encouraging observer who contributes his musical talents to the spectacle. There is audience participation, dressing up, dressing down, flesh and bone and sausage. Even Brexit gets a mention.

No Woman’s Land is visually striking, appearing as a sort of 3D pop-up book, with cut-out figures and objects brought to life with effective lighting and unexpected projections. There are trees and trees and trees, representing the miles and miles of disorientating woodland they, and the Grandmother, had to walk through. The parallels with the political refugees of today are clear. No Woman’s Land is reminiscent of a sort of illustrated Grimms Fairytale, where danger lurks just beneath the surface of something dreamlike and dazzling, a story with a heart of darkness.

Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.

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