Lyn Gardner, October 13th, 2005
What is it that makes us us? Is it the DNA we inherit? Or something more? Can we ever escape our genetic programming? David Ree is an Englishman (so English, he can't even order a cup of coffee in French), whose French father fled Paris to escape a most unusual family curse: causing the deaths of French intellectuals in traffic accidents. Now Ree, a scientist trying to understand the purpose of junk DNA (the bits that appear to carry no genetic code), goes to Paris for a conference, taking his elderly father, who is suffering from the inherited disease Huntington's Chorea. When his father goes missing, Ree's sense of self is thrown into confusion and he is forced to map his own inheritance through the streets of Paris.
Billed as "a genetic detective thriller" and constructed with the cunning of a cryptic crossword, this latest piece from the multimedia company Lightwork is a hugely enjoyable mixture of head and heart, text and visuals wrapped in an atmospheric and stylish production that reeks of European chic tempered with an English fastidiousness and taste for strong, intelligent text.
There are times when the whole thing feels over-constructed and a little too cold — as if it can't quite locate its own heart. As you might expect from a piece that gleefully links contemporary genetics with the deaths of Ernest Chausson, the symbolist composer, Pierre Curie, the co-discoverer of radium, and Roland Barthes, founding father of structuralism, this is a show that is very full of itself. But there is something rather lovable about its precociousness — not least because the cleverness is always playful, and the melding of film and live action in the manner of a cash-strapped Lepage or Complicite is something to show off about.
Lightwork's visually commanding, hi-tech production beautifully complements the complicated nature of this thoughtful meditation on identity, with the vast, moving video montages and occasional choreographed sequences conveying something of the play's fluid movement through time and space, science and metaphysics.
Joyce McMillan, February 11th, 2006
French intellectuals, it seems, have a strange habit of dying in traffic accidents. The composer Ernest Chausson, the scientist Pierre Curie and the linguistic philosopher Roland Barthes all met their deaths in this way; and the central conceit of this beautiful short show from the Lightwork company, playing until tonight, is that the hero, a British genome scientist called David Ree, belongs to a family which has been mysteriously implicated in all those deaths. The show describes the last day in Ree’s life, as he travels to Paris for a conference, bringing with him his ageing French-born father, who suffers from hereditary Huntington’s disease.
Lightwork calls the show a genetic detective thriller, and so it is. But it’s also an exquisite, poignant meditation on 21st-century themes of genetic determinism and free will, the power and limitations of science, the nature of fatherhood and cultural belonging; and a brilliant demonstration of the power of abstract and formally sophisticated theatre when it’s put at the service of a compelling narrative, a fine script and an emotional situation quietly powerful enough to break the heart.
Time Out London
Kieron Quirke, October 13th, 2005
Genome scientist David Rée is of French birth, but has never visited his home country. The reason is a curse upon his family, which dooms them to involvement in the accidental deaths of French intellectuals. The three greatest brains spilt by the curse have been Ernest Chausson, the composer; Pierre Curie, husband of Marie; and philosopher-critic Roland Barthes.
As a scientist, Rée does not believe in the curse. But when, on a day-trip to Paris, his frail and diseased father goes missing, he starts to fear the worst.
Lightwork, the multimedia performance company who devised this piece, will be the first to admit their premise is complex. The play opens with a good few minutes of detective-genre voice-over to set the audience straight. But once it hits its stride, this is a hugely stimulating and drop-dead gorgeous piece of theatre.
The play shifts between Rée's search for his father and accounts from his family's three victims on their last days on this earth. The heady, intellectual atmosphere of an idealised Paris is conjured through an accordion soundtrack, deft use of beautiful video projections and the subtly Gallic physicality of the excellent performers.
It makes the perfect setting for what emerges as a complex meditation upon body and soul, knowledge and causality. While the red herrings and misperceptions that blight Rée's detective work highlight for us the inadequacy of his scientific approach, the intellectuals at the moment of death confront us with an attractive idea of the human condition, their minds soaring in poetry even as their bodies cave in to the necessities of physics.
This multimedia production from Lightwork is witty, playful and very cerebral... Visually, the production teems with information... In its exploration of the body's desires and vulnerability, the play ultimately reaches the heard as well as the head.
Neil Cooper, February 9th, 2006
Technically speaking, this country’s been killing intellectuals for years. The exotic allure of philosophically minded aesthetes in France, on the other hand, has inspired generations of serious young men for just as long.
David Rée, the geneticist hero of this tantalising piece of mind-bending theatricality by the Lightwork company, is caught between both stools. With French ancestry, his parents upped sticks to England in a vain bid to get away from their “family curse”. This saw them directly involved in a succession of accidental deaths, including composer Ernest Chausson, physicist Pierre Curie, and, most recently, semiotician Roland Barthes.
Making a prodigal’s return to his former homeland to give a lecture, David becomes embroiled in a complex game of cat-and-mouse as his ageing father accompanying him disappears, leaving a series of cryptic clues behind which only his son-and-heir can fathom. Old ghosts, meanwhile, are stirring.
What follows is a fascinating meditation on the search for self among the clutter of hand-me-down tics both physical and psychological. As David goes round in circles, already, as a scientist hopeless with technology, a living paradox, what begins as a wry, clever-clever thesis ends up as a propulsive detective story and a genuine matter of life and death. Nature versus nurture theories notwithstanding David is, after all, chasing after the man he must inevitably become.
Utilising understated video feeds to illustrate the secret-lined Parisian streets which David drifts through, Andy Lavender’s production moulds Dan Rebellato’s ideas-led text into a beguiling set of sense-memory mythologies. At times in similar in tone to prototype Suspect Culture, whom, in One Way Street, had another intellectual, philosopher, Walter Benjamin, wander through Berlin in a similar fashion. Here, however, Lavender and Rebellato’s cast of four led by Eric MacLennan as David, prove that, as with an art-house movie – French of course – ideas can be more than just an academic exercise.
Donald Hutera, January 13th, 2006
THIS smart, sensitive and extremely enjoyable production by Andy Lavender's Lightwork company hinges on a peculiarly funny family curse. "We kill French intellectuals in traffic accidents," the middle-aged geneticist David Rée explains in an introductory voiceover.
Rée, played by Eric MacLennan with an endearing mix of repression and discombobulated unease, is en route to Paris to speak at a scientific conference. His ailing (and unseen) French-born father accompanies him. When Dad goes missing, the son takes an unexpected detour into the past, both his own and that of three famous Frenchmen — the composer Ernest Chausson, the physicist Pierre Curie and the philosopher-critic Roland Barthes — in whose real-life accidental deaths Rée's ancestors are said to have been unintentionally implicated. The show, which is touring Britain until March 4, is subtitled "a genetic detective thriller". It is a scintillating comedy, too, but one with a melancholic undertow based on themes of chance, fate, mortality and lineage.
It is also a model of how to place technology at the service of a production, rather than have it be the raison d'être. Douglas O'Connell's video designs possess a magical beauty, wit and flexibility. The deceptively simple set features a back wall for projections and three easel-like panels. The narrative slides with protean elegance and ease from one location to the next.
The piece is more than just visually engaging. Dan Rebellato, the author, has a fine ear for absurd situations and human idiosyncrasies. One moment he is sending up the pretensions of the French intelligentsia or the linguistic and behavioural gulfs between Gallic and British culture and in the next he is reaching for the poignant and poetic. Save for one key transformation, MacLennan confines himself to playing Ré e. He and the other actors bring plenty of expert and often comic detail to their performances.
Among them David Annen, Paul Murray and Danny Scheinmann split a succession of surly waiters and eager scientists, suggestive concierges and traffic cops. Each also embodies one of the aforementioned trio of celebrities, each of whom describes and enacts in a stylised fashion his own demise.
If the payoff to this complex and slippery tale ultimately seems a little muddied, no matter. Lightwork's collaborators have created a resonant entertainment that appeals to the mind, the emotions and the eyes.
This multimedia show unfolds smoothly, using back projections and physical theatre techniques... A bit reminiscent of Complicite and Robert Lepage, this offers delightful moments that are all its own.
The Sunday Times
John Peter, February 5th, 2006
This spellbinding 100-minute piece is like an enigma with variations, a dance of ideas, a quiz, a detective story, a sudoku in motion. David Rée is an English geneticist at a conference in Paris. (Why Rée? Could it be because of the verb reify, meaning to materialise, convert abstract concepts into things? Just a thought.) Rée thinks there’s a curse on his family: they caused the death, by road accident, of several French intellectuals. (Interesting idea, eh?) Rée’s elderly father, who is too ill to drive, disappears. Is the curse about to be revenged? But surely, if you’re a geneticist, you can’t believe in curses? An accident is only an accident: it represents nothing. But does a map represent a place, just as a translation represents a text, a dance represents music or an actor a character? Conceived and directed by Andy Lavender, devised by the company and written by Dan Rebellato, this play is mind-stretching, funny and elegant. The four actors, all playing several parts in both languages, are like gymnasts of the brain, radiating humanity and intellectual excitement.