'This Beautiful Future' review or 'I'll take it from here.'
This Beautiful Future, Rita Kalnejais
9th May 2017, The Yard Theatre
Having seen ‘This Beautiful Future’, I will always think of ticker tape projections (on which surtitles are normally projected) fondly, and with wonder. I will never be able to listen to Adele’s song, ‘Hello’, without remembering a kind and shy audience, falteringly singing this song alongside me. I will try to remind myself that one person’s enemy is another’s hero. I will be grateful for the love in my life. I will try to live a little better and I will remind myself that theatre should be beautiful.
This is another stunning show from The Yard’s artistic director Jay Miller, who has an instinctive grasp of theatrical textures and the endless ways in which light, sound, smoke, words, song, feeling – and the audience - might intertwine on stage. To watch his very best productions is, for me, to fall deep inside and madly back in love with theatre.
Rita Kalnejais’s new play is set in rural France in 1944, just as the war is ending. German soldier Otto and local French lass Elodie are meeting for one last night together. Otto doesn’t know it yet but the German army has begun to retreat. That ‘perfect’ world that Otto has been fighting and killing for is no more and his hero Hitler has been vanquished. Tomorrow, Otto and Eloide will wake up to a world that cannot hold them. But tonight, the war has disappeared out of view and these two hopeful teenagers – fooling around on a patch of bright green grass and a white bed that looks a little like a floating cloud – have created a separate world, with just each other.
The compassion that runs through Kalnejais’s writing is exquisite and catching. We fall in love with both sides of the story. Hannah Millward’s cheeky Elodie has a wide eyed way of speaking about the world; it’s as if she is always learning something new and surprising. Her eyes sparkle, her dialogue ends invariably with a question and her body twitches with nervous, happy energy. Bradley Hall’s Otto is more still than Elodie. He stands to attention, yet his body gravitates constantly towards Elodie. Neither seem to realise the extent of their love for each other – but we can see it in their circling movements and unchecked moments of tenderness and understanding.
The two play out their love story on a raised stage packed with shiny green grass - removed and slightly above things. Designer Cécile Trémolières’s back wall is lined with sepia photo of rural France and – for long stretches – the outside world does not impose itself. But little glimmers of reality begin to flare. As Elodie gallops about we notice that her feet are dirty and her knees are covered in scratches. The ticker tape projections start to work against our two lovers. Suddenly these words flash up, bright and bold: ‘The sound of planes overhead.’ Otto admits that, today, he took part in a firing squad and killed many French prisoners. Elodie lets slip that she heard news of the German army’s retreat on the radio. Ugly truths and the brooding war start tap, tap, tapping at the window.
The compassion we feel for these two; the easy way we accept their love for each other; the way in which we hear about the soldiers that Otto has killed yet somehow still love and pity him; the simultaneous frustration and admiration we feel for Elodie and Otto’s wilful ignorance; the painful pangs we experience when Otto lovingly describes Hitler’s rally ‘concert’; the frightening way in which Hitler’s rhetoric - and his promise to make a new world in which those who struggle will struggle no more - reminds us of Trump. All this would be more than enough – but there is more.
The final layers of this play lie at the edges of Miller’s production. Two karaoke booths stand on either side of the stage. Alwynne is in her 60s and stands on the left. 70-something Paul stands in the booth on the right. Throughout the show, Alwynne and Paul sing love songs – projected overhead - and murmur dialogue we cannot hear or see. They both have beautiful voices. Sometimes we are asked to join in with the singing and we instinctively comply. That’ll cost us later. That will hurt.
Alwynne and Paul also recite a spooling poem, which unfurls throughout the play. This poem is a nod to the past and a promise for the future, in which Alwynne and Paul say all the things they would do differently if they could live their lives again. Alwynne will let her hair down, stop looking at her phone, have the night of her life. Paul will smile at people, feed stray cats, admit when he has fallen in love.
The future and past edge closer and closer – and they seem to really care for each other. Just before Elodie and Otto make love for the very first time, a bomb drops outside. Words light up on the ticker tape: ‘Boooooooooooom’. The middle of this explosion looks only like this - ‘oooooooo’ – and the bomb itself is completely silent. It doesn’t feel that painful and it is as if the ticker tape itself – or whoever is controlling it - is protecting Otto and Elodie from the worst of the bombing. Later, as Otto and Elodie are confronted with the awful reality outside, Alwynne and Paul come out of their booths. Alwynne brushes Elodie’s hair and Paul tucks Otto up in bed. Thank you, past. It’s our time to take over now. We will try our very best.