Blood and feathers
It starts with blood. No, it starts with karaoke. It starts with two older people (Alywne Taylor and Paul Hadley) introducing themselves. “Hello, I’m Alwyne.” “I’m Paul, hello.” In their separate booths, they sing. They volunteer what they would have done differently, if they could do it again.
Between the booths is a stage of turf and on the turf is a bed, white, inviting, nestlike (the whole is beautifully designed by Cécile Trémolières). Elodie (Abigail Lawrie) runs on with an egg, red with blood, rescued from a fox’s jaws. She feathers its nest in her shoe, so it will hatch by morning. Otto (Tom Morley), a young German soldier, and Elodie, a teenager from the village he is occupying, are spending the night together. They don’t know it yet, though they can sense something portentous in the air, but after tonight everything will change.
Water and feathers
Abigail Lawrie and Tom Morley’s performances make Elodie and Otto’s relationship, which prickles with shy sexual tension, utterly believable and engrossing to watch. Lawrie’s Elodie is at once knowing and gauche, and consciously outrageous. Morley’s Otto is warier but sensitive, protective of Elodie.
While at times the period costumes and soft lighting might risk courting the saccharine or the twee, Rita Kalnejais’s writing and Jay Miller’s direction always pulls back from this; the tone is perfectly pitched. Amidst the softness, there is violence. Morley’s performance of Otto is so likeable that it is shocking to hear him articulate his Nazism. Otto’s speech describing Hitler as someone who ‘didn’t let anyone put him down’ and isn’t ‘pretending to be anything but who he is’ is a chilling study in how young men can get swept up in far right ideology.
Tar and feathers
Like the impossible dramaturgy of Romeo and Juliet, I wish the scene between Elodie and Otto could last forever and I know it can’t. I wonder what would have happened if Otto had stayed. Elodie and Otto are split up, speaking monologues into microphones, as they describe the shocking violence visited upon them outside these walls. They are not the only victims. They are not innocent. They do not deserve it. In this section, for the first time in the play I felt the connection of Kalnejais’ play with other war writing. A whole generation lost their future.
The thing with feathers
The end of This Beautiful Future is surprisingly life-affirming. Alwyne and Paul come out of their booths. The audience is encouraged to sing along to Adele’s ‘Someone like you’. The tone is not quite nostalgia, not quite regret, a requiem for an alternative future that could never have happened. In the final, coup de théâtre, three chicks wobble on the stage, a small, fluffy miracle of hope.
This Beautiful Future is at the Yard Theatre, until 25th November.