Silent Cannonfire ***

Zoo Roxy, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Silent Cannonfire feels like it’s missing something. It is, of course: this piratical production is performed entirely without spoken dialogue, instead mimed and mummed to a live soundtrack of sea shanties. It’s an interesting conceit, but Of Vast Bigness treat the speech embargo mostly as an obstacle they’ve placed in their own way, not an opportunity they’ve presented themselves.

To circumvent that obstacle, the company communicate dialogue in every possible way other than speaking it aloud. Lines are discovered conveniently written on flags, fish and the undergarments of harlots, and Captain Hatebeard communicates exclusively via scrolls written hastily in the blood of his crew.

To be fair, the revelation of each unexpected little innovation does contribute to Silent Cannonfire’s surreal, madcap humour; but the storytelling is of necessity so broad that the vast majority of lines revealed in this way just aren’t necessary for the audience’s understanding. The same information could be communicated more easily, and more in the spirit of the piece, by paying more attention to the physical side of the performances (which often lapse into standing still and mouthing, neglecting gesture).

The live band is a real asset to the production, maintaining a salty atmosphere with melodies cribbed from traditional tunes and a certain blockbuster movie franchise (be careful, Of Vast Bigness, one man’s sly reference is another intellectual property suit). The homespun scenery and special effects, including a papier mache sea monster, wouldn’t be out of place in a very enthusiastic school play, which may not be intentional but does give the play a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Overall, though, it can’t shake that sense of incompleteness: that it isn’t a production devised without dialogue, it’s a regular production with the dialogue ripped away and imperfectly patched.

Crew includes Will Seaward (director), Rich Mason (technical director), Owen Woods (musical director), Fred Spaven (set design and construction), Dan Summerbell (fight director) and Deanna Bergdorf (dance choreographer)

Cast includes Stephen Bailey, Flo Carr, Chrystal Ding, John Haidar, Hannah Laurence, Julia Leijola, Max Levine, Matt Lim, Chloe Mashiter, Pierre Novellie, Emerald Paston, George Potts and Emma Stirling

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