Crisp and bold: Spitfire Company in The Narrator

ZOO Southside, Edinburgh
August 26, 2017

Róisín O’Brien


Spitfire Company’s The Narrator, part of the Czech Showcase at this Edinburgh’s Fringe, has the makings of a formidable show, but doesn’t quite make it. Images sit beneath but do not surface to become a tangible thread for the audience to follow.

The grand space of Zoo Southside’s main house is chopped up into the components parts of The Narrator’s staging: the main box for performer Cecile de Costa, added to which, Lego style, are additional smaller boxes of different materials. Live musician Jan Sikl sits behind her, drummer and saxophone player extraordinaire. This refreshing totality and openness, not blocked in by traditions of staging, is similar to Spitfire’s other work at the festival, One Step Before the Fall.

De Costa, sinewy yet childish in her small stature, isn’t so much a narrator as someone caught in their own internal struggle. Her surroundings of brick, gravel, and water provide the restrictions or sanctuaries she moves through. The lifting or smashing of bricks are self-imposed hardships; immersion in water seems both drowning and relief.

Certain moments are particularly fraught and poignant: the strain in De Costa’s shoulders as she continuously raises bricks up to shoulder level, or her eventual ripping up of the floor boards to  reveal a mirrored underside that throws her disorderly appearance back at her.

It is unclear in the movement or scenography what in particular, however, she is reliving; some of the unwieldy spoken words reference specifically female trauma, with the often-repeated line “my three unborn children.” While the images are evocative, they are pushed at the audience rather than communicated: The Narrator’s creative process seems based on symbolism and metaphor but the final manifestation of the work has lost some of the grounding it began with.

Sikl’s music provides at times a blurry, grotty sonic environment evoking dark, secluded areas through the sax. The punch of the drums at other times drive De Costa to tap dancing, fencing or haka-like movements. Dressing room bulbs, strung together on a portable rig, switch on and off, alternating the mood from dusk to cold and clinical. De Costa has a haunting vocal presence also, her lullabies and melodies sometimes powerful but more often random and uncertain in their meaning.

The Narrator is a work that explores exciting interactions between stage, performer and live musician. Like other productions I have seen from Spitfire (Antiwords is an excellent theatrical experience), there is a crispness and professionalism to the imagery that is stark and bold. It just doesn’t quite take its audience to a conclusion, leaving a lot of work to be done.