The joy of the Fringe is that if you turn enough corners, past enough comedy stand up acts and musicals, you will stumble across something truly life changing. It can be something so small and low key, yet its impact truly transcends its scale. Evocation is one of those shows.
Evocation outshines the competition with its poeticism, creativity and physicality. Threading together various poems from Albert Giraud, the play tells the distressing story of a young woman in flashbacks, set in pre-World War One Brighton. She falls pregnant after a romantic encounter with Pierrot Lunaire (a clown figure from the fin de siècle era), and what follows is unescapably tied into the upcoming horrors of the 20th century. It is like a fairy-tale; a Shakespearian soliloquy with the gothic creativity of Edgar Allan Poe, tracking the demise of a poor soul.
The puppets are not props; they are characters in their own right, animated by immersive physicality and movement. The fact that the relationship with the puppets feels so real is credit to actress Audrey L’Ebrellec, who delivers a powerhouse performance throughout. Her talent for expression is mesmerising, demanding the audience’s attention and sympathy. She recites the poems with an other-worldliness and hysteria that draws you in to her world, simultaneously moving herself around the set to breathe life into her puppets. It would be a struggle to find acting with greater conviction and power at the Fringe this year.
The props and set design of Evocation are remarkable. The puppets are wonderfully crafted, all distinguishable from one another, and the curtain mechanisms are so simple that they do not disrupt the story being told. Most striking of all, however, are the film projections shown on the white curtain. Depictions of the horrors of World War One open the performance, which are unsettling enough on their own. Combined with a haunting original score from Antoine Arlot, the result is a sequence that pulls its audience in without mercy into this world. It also serves as the crucial middle point between the present and the past, predicting a century of violence like Giraud’s poems did more than one hundred and thirty years ago. Towards the end, these images of misery and death are juxtaposed with the creation of life, in which the only mutual connection is pain. It is unnerving and moving all at once.
The events of Evocation do not occur in a bubble, but instead find meaning in the modern world. A world which strives for equality and peace, and yet is poisoned with violence and hatred. In Mick Wood’s considerate English translations of Giraud’s poetry, none of that meaning is lost. This show has meaning and depth that underlies the poetry without outshining it.
This is a performance laden with cruelty, eroticism, and the unforgiving nature of a darkened world. The gothic puppetry and aesthetic captures this darkness, meaning that while the poetry is exquisite it is the appearance of the show on stage which is the most captivating element. It is impressive that so much could be achieved with so little, especially at the show’s Fringe debut.
Now, the seasoned festival goer may posit why they would pay to see one actress with puppets in a small room when Fringe heavyweights are just down the street in their massive theatres. Evocation is indeed a peculiar creation, and will not have universal appeal. But then the Fringe has never been about universal appeal. If companies like Théâtre Volière and La SoupeCie want to put on a gothic display of puppetry and monologue, they can.
Evocation embodies the spirit of the Fringe. It is unashamedly dark and bleak but also unique and wonderful to experience. With some shows it is getting in that is the difficult part, hustling and bustling past other eager ticket holders. Not here. The difficulty here is in leaving it behind.
The Space on the Mile (Venue 39)
Until 26th August
Photo credit: Jolly Good Show