A Small Museum of Displaced Sea
The Karavan Ensemble – 20th May 2012
By Andrew Collins
An amplified female voice cuts in over the sound of traffic: “Hey you! In the brown shirt! At the cafe!”. I turn, expecting to see a policewoman beckoning over some hapless chap and am rather surprised to see a girl in a diving suit, flippers and wielding a red loud hailer heckling bewildered tourists and locals alike.
Beauty in bikini
Then I notice a beauty in a bikini – and fur coat – flitting around and around and around nearby, brandishing one of those toy windmills that spin with air movement. Transfixed for a while, as well you might be, I nearly failed to spot a chap dressed as a doctor, tending to and testing an odd assortment of bottles and vials on a table in front of – how could I have missed it – a full size resplendent replica of a Victorian bathing machine. It is flanked by one of the doctor’s medical orderlies.
The Old Steine is rarely this interesting, even in Summer. This is Yael Karavan’s latest Brighton Fringe show, A Small Museum of Displaced Sea. Performed by the renowned Karavan Ensemble, a world class collection of international dancers, actors and musicians, their weekly act has proved very popular. It has been created with the collaboration of the Older People Dance project – Dance in the Years, and the Saint Richards Evergreens older people club in Hollingdean.
A Ship of Fools
The Karavan Ensemble group was formed by Yael in 2010 they have since created four shows; A Ship of Fools, A Light through the Night, Dressing Room and Anima. The latter won the local Argus’ Angel award , and was described as a “strikingly original production” by Total Theatre magazine.
National Theatre, Israel, and Florence
Yael herself started acting at 13, appearing in the National Theatre, television and films in Israel, later living and performing in Florence, Paris and London. She has also worked in Brazil, Japan and across Europe, with her work often described as “visual poetry”. She draws on elements of Butoh, dance, mime, clown and physical theatre, and most of these were present in today’s performance.
The show started with Yael addressing the audience: “in order to take you to the future, we would like to take you a little bit in the past”, thus commencing a theatrical journey and potted history through the Old Steine, Dr. Russell, who prescribed sea water as a health tonic – unimaginable now! – and regular dips in the ocean. An audience member was encouraged to do just that in a filled tin bucket by the cast members, and gamely took off her shoes and socks to partake in the 263 old remedy. Whether she benefitted from the therapeutic effects or not I’m not sure, but it was a lovely spectacle, especially for the children watching.
Then, we went into the performance proper – a mesmerising trip through time, combining theatrical set pieces, props, nostalgic music, mime and slapstick, centred, of course, around the fabulous bathing machine. It is an integral part of the performance, and a also features as a living museum filled with memories, newspaper articles and recordings of older people from the area.
Elderly couple dancing
Any sceptics in the audience were soon one over by the event, becoming absorbed and losing themselves to the moment. One particular touching and evocative moment was of the elderly couple dancing in front of the machine to period music – divine in their grace; graceful and poignant, echoes of a long lost era – enjoying the frisson of living for the now rather than the stressful, unhealthy modern obsession with living only with a mind to the future.
A Small Museum of Displaced Sea operated on many levels, and was a surprisingly dense show in terms of themes, codas and timeless expression for an afternoon open air public performance. It was at times also very amusing – the cast have clearly honed their skills and teamwork over their last four shows since 2010, and the choreography was impeccable.
The highlight of the show for me was the storm / war section – wonderfully physical and dynamic, all the performers creating a fascinatingly kinetic spectacle to a powerful soundtrack.
Finally, Yael thanked the appreciative audience – pulled out of their daily reverie and routine for a eclectic and transfixing 30 minutes.
Victorian bathing machine
The bathing machine will feature next weekend as a time machine, allowing the public access to the recordings, memories and pictures of locals that have been amassed within. It will form part of a six strong group of bathing machines on display in Madeira Drive between 12-3pm and should be something well worth going to. A lot of thought and effort has been put in to the show by all members, and it was certainly one of the most memorable in the Fringe so far.