Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things
Talya Rubin @ Queen’s Theatre
5:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011
Despite the more temperate weather of the day, it’s still hot and sticky inside the Queen’s Theatre for this performance; I shudder to think what it would’ve been like in there on a really hot day. There’s a pretty decent audience in, which is great to see – I hadn’t heard much buzz about Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things, so that means that it’s either a friends-and-family show, or that people are taking a chance on something different. I hope for the latter…
…and I get it.
There’s nothing else quite like Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things; in very low light, Talya Rubin introduces herself in the guise of Aunt Esther, the care-giver of five children who have gone missing. As she describes the impact of the children’s disappearance on the rest of the small community, she introduces a small cast of other characters: the children’s real mother, Esther’s neighbour, a detective, townsfolk rallying for a talent show.
There’s something almost rustic and quaint about the environments and characters that Rubin creates, though the detective has a hint of noir about him; the town’s Talent Show is full of oddball characters that wouldn’t feel out-of-place at Lynch’s Club Silencio. Rubin has a sense of poise as she switches between each of her characters in turn. However, there’s almost no unique vocal characterisation: her presentation, focusing more on small hand movements akin to sign language, is more one of a storyteller… a narrator of proceedings. This is reinforced by her careful, methodical movements around the set, illuminating small sets for a moment to manipulate puppets within them, pointing the story in the right direction.
And the set… well, let’s just say that the set is incredible. Old gramophone record players, overhead projectors, lamps, elegant desks, mounds of dirt, boxes and fish tanks that hide intricate little scenes in which puppetry takes place… it’s elaborate. It’s also heavily wired; there are seemingly dozens of different lights available to Rubin from a control-board in the middle of the set. In fact, the opening minutes of the show consist almost entirely of her precisely setting up the lighting of the scene, only to act in it for the briefest glimpse, before moving onto the setup for the next scene. It’s like watching a very slow, deliberate strobe light.
But while the pacing of the story is incredibly slow, it’s also incredibly moody. Light plays a big part in that; Rubin uses her technical setup to focus our attention to one small part of the story at a time, shifting perspective between characters freely. And the audio accompaniment – also managed via her magic control board – is the stuff of eerie horror minimalism.
Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things is not just theatre; it’s more of an installation piece, with all the delicate dioramas and intricate set-pieces. It’s also wonderfully atmospheric… and dark. Very dark. And grim. Yet the mood conjured up by Rubin as she manages the entire performance by herself is almost dream-like… but we’re talking about five missing (presumed dead) children here. It’s more like a nightmare, but the gentlest nightmare you could imagine.
It’s compelling, yet I almost didn’t want to see what happened next. It’s an enveloping experience, but I don’t know who I’d recommend it too. I think I’m still trying to figure out whether I actually enjoyed it or not.