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Complicité return to Oxford with a humdinger

The Icewoman Cometh

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, at the Oxford Playhouse from Wednesday, March 1, to Saturday, March 4. Review by JON LEWIS

Forty years after Theatre de Complicité emerged at the Pegasus Theatre in Oxford and seven years since the company last visited Oxford with Simon McBurney’s The Encounter, Complicité, as it is now known, returned to Oxford with a humdinger of a show.

Complicite Drive Your Plow
Complicite Drive Your Plow

The play, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, is adapted from Polish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Olga Tokarczuk’s novel about a small community living in the Tatra mountains near to the Czech border. It’s a whodunit, with a serial killer offing leading officials in the neighbourhood with an icepack, all members of the prestigious local hunting society.

McBurney has been inspired by Eastern European novels before, creating landmark shows A Street of Crocodiles and Out of a House Walked a Man. Drive Your Plow is similarly inventive with many of the same team involved. This play is worth watching for Paule Constable’s lighting design alone, but with Rae Smith’s design, Christopher Shutt’s urgent sound design and Dick Straker’s stunning video projections, the visual and aural elements of the play are astounding.

For the Oxford run, Amanda Hadingue takes over from Kathryn Hunter in the lead role of Janina, a 60-something, chronically ill, former teacher with a fascination in astrology, William Blake’s poetry, and wildlife. Janina is surrounded by quirky, sometimes inspiring, friends such as a visiting insect expert. The murder victims are a rum lot, fixed in their views, harmful to the environment and society.

Huge projected images of the night sky full of stars, and of astrological instruments and symbols whirl around behind a reflective glass screen that divides the back of the set from the front. Other scenes shock with their depiction of massacred animals. McBurney’s trademark physical theatre enables the ensemble to become deer one moment, a squad of police wearing dark puffa jackets the next. The jackets then are hauled above the stage to become mountain tops, projections beamed magically on to them.

The superb cast blends Complicité regulars Johannes Flaschberger, Tamzin Griffin and Cesar Sarachu with younger talent such as Breach Theatre’s Sophie Steer and Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer.

A resounding, unforgettable triumph.

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