Non-verbal drama, review

Alex Went

Marianna Arzumanova's superb 'Buenos Aires, Final Destination' is a non-verbal drama based on the story of the European diaspora which saw countless thousands embark on a one-way voyage to a new life in South America.

The play was developed in 2013 by the Prague-based dance group Buenos Aires Tango; and it is that intimate, sexy dance which provides the raison d'etre and - along with other period dance and song - the soundtrack, to their lives.

The lights go up on a small group of travellers gripping those iconic battered suitcases which have come to denote the hopes and horrors of the twentieth century. What follows is a seamless sequence of flashbacks as, decade by decade, the play charts the interconnected backstories of its protagonists: lovers on the shores of a pre-war Europe, ordinary men and women in a busy street in 1900 Naples, an infant playing in her photographer father's Budapest studio in 1928.

One of this play's most compelling revelations is that man's capacity for inhumanity needs no script: the turning point is reached in 1930s Berlin, when a cabaret act, its ritzy soundtrack overcome by the demented rantings of the Fuerher, culminates in a glass of cognac being thrown in protest at a uniformed Nazi officer. The music stops abruptly, while only the cafe clock ticks ominously on.

An artistic quirk of the production is that the chronological sequence - which appears at first to show the grand narrative of history unfolding in due order - turns out (like history itself) to be not so predictable. At the point when the audience expects to be engulfed by the horrors of the Second World War, for example, the train of history transports us instead back to the years of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution.

But this fracture in the timeline is no continuity error. Instead it allows the director to counterpoise poignant memories of the past with contemporary history, giving the whole play the air of an extended dream-sequence - before returning us with a sad inevitability to the Prague of the 1940s and the expulsion of the Jews.

Everything in this production, from the confidently-timed dance sequences to the adroit choice of period music and costume, to the carefully-observed pen portraits of the ghosts of our forefathers, makes Buenos Aires Final Destination an impressive piece of theatre and an invaluable history lesson. Only an hour, but it feels like a lifetime.

Alex Went

Divadlo Marianny Arzumanové