In the Absence of Angels
Simple is rarely simple. The more the appearance of effortlessness, the more demanding the artifice that makes something look easy. Like Collapsing Horse’s utterly divine "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." Based on Gabriel García Márquez’s short story of the same name, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" follows a kind of Little Miss Dynamite and her sidekick, Silent Boy, as they work like superheroes to sprinkle about some theatrical magic. And oh, do they deliver. Charming beyond all measure, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" delivers innocence with a dark vein running through it. And is just perfect for the Christmas season. Gifting two gorgeously judged performances that will gently bowl you over, in a production that's likely to blow you away.
When it comes to story, García Márquez’s occasionally sluggish slice of magic realism has little, narratively speaking, to offer. A married couple, finding an aged angel and caging him in their chicken coop, turn their find into a paying freakshow. A story without a message but with lots of meanings, what turns "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" into something memorable is the manner in which the story is told. Like two precocious eight years olds performing a puppet show in front of their family, playing with cut out figures in a crayoned diorama, Manus Halligan and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman strut about with a childlike awkwardness, presenting their tale with mouth watering, theatrical finesse.
Featuring lights by Sarah Jane Shiels, AV design by Eoin Kilkenny, some superb composition by Alma Kelliher, and a minimal set by Andrew Clancy, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is as technically impressive as it is impressively performed. Throughout, director Dan Colley marshals his many forces to terrific effect, making everything look simple, effortless, and abundantly rich. Foregrounding performance over the many theatrical effects, and making the experience all the more richer for doing so.
Resembling a childlike Penn and Teller - one a pushy ball of energy demanding your attention, the other a near invisible mute trying hard to be noticeably unnoticed - Halligan and Hulme-Beaman are an absolute joy. If Hulme-Beaman’s narrator might wish to appear like she’s the star of the show, delivering a one person monologue with some light assistance from Halligan, Halligan doesn’t mind in the least. Happy to bring layers of subtle emphasis to proceedings with a knowing look, or a telling glance, or a supporting sound effect, making himself indispensable as the perfect sidekick. Allowing Hulme-Beaman’s endearing diva to dominate, so she can steal the limelight and melt your heart with an irresistibly captivating performance. One you will wish to see over and over again.
Theatre exists for shows like this. And Collapsing Horse are masters of telling childlike stories for adults and children that become little marvels of theatre. And yet, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is to be their last. A crime that speaks volumes to the current crisis in arts funding and to inadequate supports for artists that allow angels to die all over. Drifting us towards a time where an absence of angels, or angels caged too tightly, will make for an uglier world. Raging against the dying of the light with this ode to joy and to theatre, Collapsing Horse are going out on their own terms. Ending with style and a bang, and without so much as a hint of a whimper. Their absence will be our loss, robbing the world of some much needed light. Catch them now before they disappear into myth and memory. "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is not to be missed. If for no other reason than it is simply fifty minutes of near theatrical perfection.
"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" based on the short story by Gabriel García Márquez, adapted for the stage by Dan Colley, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman and Manus Halligan, presented by Collapsing Horse and the Abbey Theatre, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until December 28.
For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.