Vigil – Mechanimal & Pound Arts

Created by Tom Bailey

Direction of Photography by Jack Offord

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Twenty-six thousand.

This is the number of species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’. In a collaboration between Mechanimal and Pound Arts, Tom Bailey’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 smash has been recorded at the Pound Arts Centre, infusing the original stage production with filmed segmentations. Vigil reconnects us to our changing planet and re-aligns our understanding of the swansong the environment is undergoing as we, humanity, face the planet’s sixth mass extinction; One which we have undeniably had a colossal hand in heralding.

Vigil embodies fragile poetry interspersed with the urgency of humour and despair as Bailey manifests a series of insects, reptiles, birds, flora and mammals with his voice, mannerisms, and form. Set to the slow ticking of a projector, the unknown names of various species are cast atop a wall. In this space, time is the champion, and extinction is the price to pay the longer we listen. With nothing but a small cube filled with bones, Bailey cycles through the various names as the production’s composition begin to distort in an uncomfortable (but necessary) series of thought-provoking semiotics.

Contorting and manipulating his body to emulate the critters, the crawlies and the creepies, Bailey is in tremendous hands with movement director Phillipa Handley. Working with Bailey on the original production, the film of the stage show enables the intricacies of Handley’s minimalist movements, in conjunction with Bailey’s facial expression, to pinpoint the humour, despair and agony. The diminutive finger claws of the Spiny Dwarf Mantis become as bold and identifiable as the enormous presence of the Laughing Owl or Bengal Tiger.

But the metamorphosis extends beyond the realms of the visual as Andrew Cooke’s sound design in tandem with the beatboxing, micro-mouth movements and chirps of Bailey pour a host of creatures into the fray. More deftly than the choreography, the audio design enables a shortcut to the devastation, in the same way as the humour Vigil unlocks to engross the audience. Whether a beatboxing Epirus Dancing Grasshopper to lighten the tone, or the sombre trash compaction and traffic jams which coincide with the arrival of the aptly named Litter Toad or No-Parking Whitebeam Tree makes for a treasonous laugh as the reality of humanity’s perverse intrusion dawns on the audience.

Time is running out, and Cooke’s sound design takes no prisoners in the consistent reminder of the metaphorical clock ticking by as the passing seconds serve to remind us of the tragic and bleak futures these creatures possess. Significantly silent, the precise taps of the projection slides reinforce the momentum of the clocking running out. Limbic Cinema’s projection design, at first relatively simple as a white frame with black font gradually begins to distort with the sound of gunfire, static, and work in conjuncture with the sparingly used, but meticulous lighting from Jenny Roxburgh.

Jack Offord’s direction maintains a stepped back presence, however, allowing the theatrical nature of Vigil to extend beyond the theatrical. Transitioning to the digital format, infusing a sense of filmmaking, the core of Vigil stays within the parameters of the stage show, but the cinematic elements provide a breathing space – the outskirts of forest clearings, dense woodland, or windy hills to draw a closer tie to the nature Bailey re-enacts.

With the bones prophetically scattered across the floor, Bailey fails to recognise various species that perished before science named them, forming a poignant and morose note to end. Its playful and thought-provoking poetic structure conceals the atrocity of extinction beneath a comedic and, at times, intimate physical performance.

 Available to stream from here

Photo credit – Mechanimal


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