Tmesis Theatre are well known for their work as a duo; for Wolf Red, performer Yorgos Karamalegos steps off stage and into the director’s role, while Elinor Randle flies solo in a work that retains all their usual spine-tingling trademarks.
It’s a coming together of many long-term collaborators (including renowned physical theatre practitioner, the late Nigel Charnock), leaving Randle to declare performing Wolf Red doesn’t feel like a one woman show. It could be said the same was felt by the audience, held in rapt attention for the duration of the 55 minute piece.
A beautiful, haunting cello-led soundtrack from Mieke Holzmann and a sparce performance space squared off with greenery and trees, containing matress, chair , bucket of water and bedside table from Lois Maskell meant the sights and sounds were evocative from the off. Spurts of dry ice enveloped Randle and faded away throughout the performance to create a familiar, yet unsettling twisted fairytale setting.
So what was Wolf Red? Like the best of Tmesis’s work, it spewed out a wealth of ideas, themes and interpretations while remaining an ultimately accessible piece of physical theatre. Drawing a parallel between the happy ever after of fairy tales with the trappings of 50s-style femininity, exploring the duality of the old crone and the young beauty, hinting at the macabre of the most fantastical abduction headlines, and studying female desire all seemed to be touched on in the hour.
Randle began swathed in a red hood, a huddled granny giving a warning about woods (dialogue did not dominate the piece, but it was another wonderfully poetic script from Chris Fittock, who worked with the company on 2008’s The Dreadful Hours). Later, in just vest and pants, she was a girl trapped in the room, fighting the raw spirit (and, presumably, primal sexuality) of the wolf. Finally, to the strains of Doris Day’s Tea for Two, she became a domestic godess, tending to her wifely duties with an increasingly manic zeal. To accept one’s fate? To make an escape? What to do?
Her transformations were remarkable, her energetic performance captivating from the very beginning (one of those ones where even taking a sip of drink as you watch seems like too much of a distraction from what is happening in front of you). It isn’t a traditional narrative, and there’s a lot left to the audience to figure out – but that is part of the challenge, as a visual treat with plenty to say. Tmesis are without doubt among the greatest performers in Liverpool today, and Wolf Red raises the bar of their considerable standards once again.