Taking a physical and metaphorical journey into the depths of the unconscious, The Forgotten seeks to heal wounds of the soul. Acclaimed for its inventive visual style, the show is at the cutting edge of contemporary French circus. Raphaëlle Boitel and her company fuse circus, theatre and dance in equal measures to stunning effect. “Because it’s my first big show, it’s my most important,” she tells me. “I’ve been putting everything I’ve got into it.” One of the most remarkable performers on the European visual and physical theatre scene, The Forgotten marks the Paris-based Boitel’s directorial debut.
The Brighton Festival run sees the UK premiere of this introspective and fantastical piece. With incredible physical ability, six performers fly, glide, dive and subvert everyday objects in an enchanted theatrical landscape. This parallel and ethereal world echoes ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as it descends deeper into the strange and magical. But beneath the splendour lies a dark edge of loss and grief. The concept for the show originated around a decade ago, Boitel wanting to use her personal experience of grief to produce an optimistic work about bereavement. “Everybody knows this situation. I wanted it to be universal.” Preparations for the production truly started five years ago, albeit with interruptions from other projects, with a solid 15 weeks of rehearsals running to opening night.
This visual and physical fairy-tale depicts a woman coping with grief after the loss of a lover. We then move into a dreamlike exploration of her past lives, the illusion of her facilitated by Boitel’s sister and mother. Fusing elements of dance, theatre and circus, The Forgotten is an epic story of yearning and discovery.
The show’s visual aesthetic was enormously inspired by the work of filmmakers David Lynch, Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry. Like these directorial visionaries, Boitel has painstakingly designed an environment which tells as much of the story as its six performers. Even the strong contrasts in the work’s lighting are intentionally employed to evoke and enhance the audience’s emotional responses. “My work is quite dreamlike. There’s a certain aesthetic. I wanted to do a show where you could feel the intimacy and magic.”
Raphaëlle Boitel comes from a proud tradition of extra-theatrical circus. It seems the French have an inherent ability to produce physical performances with dark themes in a bright and inspiring manner. “Circus is very popular here. But as with everywhere there is less money around, so it’s becoming a little difficult. You just have to be ingenious.” Now her first full show asks sweet and profound questions about life, love and mourning. It seemingly distorts time and replicates the fragile intricacies of relationships. Mankind’s uneasy connection with grief is at the core of its narrative, making it a work everyone can relate to.
After touring France to enormous critical acclaim, Brighton hosts the beginning of a major international tour. Wonderfully happy with the reception The Forgotten has received already, like most artists Boitel has still trouble accepting her creation as the finished article. “You always want to do better and go further. I am proud to be with my family, and that the audience love it. But you never want to stop evolving it, just like life.”
The Forgotten comes to Brighton Dome, on Tue 19 – Wed 20 May, as part of Brighton Festival.
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