OPERATION ELSEWHERE

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Venue: Zoom

2 to 4 May 2020

Big Telly is company that is unafraid of going out into the community to create interactive, immersive work sharpened by the inevitable risk of things going horribly wrong. Under the restless imagination of its co-founder and artistic director Zoe Seaton, it has moved more recently into the digital world of ‘game theatre’, propelling unsuspecting audiences into unsettling adventures where fantasy and reality sit cheek by jowl.

In Operation Elsewhere, families and friends dial into Zoom for an entirely new experience of shared live performance, in which making a visible idiot of yourself is part of the deal.  The cast set up green screens in their own bedrooms, halls or stairwells, complete with a variety of video backgrounds.  Thus, while the audience is seeing enchanted forests and stormy seas, the doughty actors are grappling with a plethora of artistic and technical horrors from the privacy of their own homes.  And pulling it all together, from a safe distance, is Zoom magician Sinead Owens.

Seaton has adapted Jane Talbot’s original collection of dark tales from Irish mythology into this riotous piece of quarantine theatre.  There is no attempt to reconcile modern technology with the mysterious ancient world; the skilfully engineered clash of time zones is part of the fun.

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Audiences arrive at an airport and are put through the usual search procedures by Cillian Lenahan’s incompetent security guard.  Then behold Chris Grant’s mischievous, shape-shifting Púca, who employs nifty game wizardry to speed us away to Elsewhere, a land of faeries and magic and changelings, where time is inside out and upside down and nothing is quite as it seems.

The journey is an homage to the natural beauty of the North Antrim coast, soaring over the Giant’s Causeway,  the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Mussenden Temple on the cliffs above Magilligan Strand.

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In a tumbledown shack on a lonely offshore island lurks Nicky Harley’s warrior queen Scatha, a bold, cartoony presence, leading the assembled online gathering into battle with Michael Johnson’s malevolent Birdman.  Meanwhile back on earth, a thunderous Rhodri Lewis is Colin, a mortal earthling  transformed into a simpering, bearded bride en route for a day of surreal celebration in very peculiar company.

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The audience unites in chanting, singing and dressing up for the nuptial festivities of Anya (Rosie McClelland) and Dave (Keith Singleton), hapless modern day incarnations of the mythical Tír na nÓg lovers Oisín and Niamh. The whole thing is gloriously mad and messy, guaranteed to brighten a grey day of enforced isolation for all the family.

The original version of this review was first published in The Stage on 1 May 2020.

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