Out of Blixen (Print Room at the Coronet)

Posted: April 8, 2017 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com


Most of us know very little about the writer Karen Blixen, her name conjuring up only images of Meryl Streep gliding above the Serengeti in a small plane piloted by Robert Redford. It is probable that Out of Africa was once screened at the art deco Coronet that has become the home of the Print Room, where Riotous Company now sets out to paint a broader picture of Blixen’s life, incorporating extracts from her stories.

Also known under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, Karen Blixen (1885-1962) spent most of her life in either Denmark or Kenya. Director Kathryn Hunter appears at intervals as the writer, now aged and syphilitic, her words tinged with sarcasm. She glances knowingly sideways, alluding to the film that would be released over two decades after her death. She refers wistfully to the lost love of her life, Denys Finch Hatton, and wallows in her own celebrity, boasting that she once met Marilyn Monroe, but cancelled an appointment to meet Adolf Hitler.

Blixen’s stories as told here resemble mystical fables and are marked by stark contrasts, mirroring a writer who endured both the extreme cold of Scandinavia and the scorching heat of central Africa. Love lies alongside cruelty, serenity with savagery and always death is in close proximity. A man slays a kindly giant so as to secure a promised kiss from his sweetheart, a scholar is seduced by the dance of an angel whose wings are then eaten by rodents. The stories are told through narration and imaginative movement, using the full expanse of the stage and above it.

Written by Paul Tickell, the 80-minute production is devised by Hunter and the performers: Femi Elufowoju jr, Nikola Kodjabashia, Marcello Magni and Mia Theil Have. Haunting music for piano and percussion, composed by Kodjabashia, is heard throughout, combining with lighting effects, designed by David Plater, to heighten the paranormal, suspenseful feel of the stories.

Intriguing and enchanting as it often is, Out of Blixen is too fragmented to gel together properly and form a satisfying whole. In some ways the show emulates Streep and Redford. It glides gracefully over the life and works of a complex woman, but it shows only tenuous links between the two and offers few new insights.

Performance date: 7 April 2017

Photo: Dan Fearon

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