This vibrant piece of physical theatre is full of clever ideas, inspired by the tragic life of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish exile. Set in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War Two, we are transported on board the luxury cruise liner S.S. Triumph – where we are privy to a character called B playing an unexpected game of chess, against one of the world's greatest champions during a violent storm.
But B, who is telling the story, is represented not by one actor but four. Each of them plays different aspects of B's character, and each attempts to tell us their own version of how B got there. They're unified by the fact that they can't quite remember.
Once I got used to the idea of the main character appearing four times on the stage, I began to appreciate the innovative use of the cast's obvious skills in physicality. Three of them – Julian Spooner, Mathew Wells and Roisin O'Mahony – move deftly around each other, fast and furious, with clever references to the game of chess that's in progress. They complete each other's sentences, movements, and whatever else needs to happen to develop the storyline.
I appreciated the innovative use of torch lights to create the illusion of B descending into the ship, and the constant percussion provided by Fred McLaren only added to the atmosphere from start to finish. The sparse set certainly reflected the mood of the time, as did the limited use of props. This was demonstrated particularly well in a scene with a drop of water on a coat, where the actors' responses were totally absorbing.
But I did feel that the speed of action and level of detail were simply overwhelming at times. I was relieved when, quite suddenly, the players grew still for a few minutes; I would have liked to have seen a bit more of this polar-opposite balance throughout the piece. Sometimes less really is more.
Nonetheless, the performances and the live music make this a well-delivered piece of theatre, portraying the truth of a pretty dark story. The themes of lost memories and lost identities are interesting ones, and the cast of Rhum and Clay certainly gave me plenty to contemplate. One line that jumped out for me was “Learn to live with what you have become”: certainly a sobering thought for all of us. And I always think that if a piece of theatre leaves me thinking long after I have left the auditorium, then it's a job well done.