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  • Chris O'Rourke


Alter, by Kamchàtka. Image uncredited.


Once the dust settles on Cork Midsummer Festival, curious hotel staff will be scratching their heads as to why there were so many bags of uncooked potatoes abandoned in hotel rooms across the city. Each with a single potato missing. Well, they need look no further than Kamchàtka’s breathtaking Alter. The Barcelona based, outdoor theatre makers clearly unaware how impossible it is to buy a single, uncooked potato in Cork. Which is fine for locals who can pop home and grab one. But those who travelled, packing a potato wasn’t high on their priority list. But trust me, you’ll want to bring a potato as per their instructions. And to turn up on time at the pick up point to be driven to a secret location for what will be a theatrical experience you’ll never forget.

Even the sky plays its role to perfection. Cusped between twilight and darkness, its faint blue hue fringes the tops of the trees as the forest is plunged into impenetrable dark. Up ahead on the narrow pathway she waits. A lady of the lanterns. Globes of light hung on a narrow branch like milk pails suspended across her shoulders. Close up, she resembles a World War Two refugee. A wanderer amidst the trees and sweet smelling earth looking for others who are also lost. No words, never words, just looks and gestures gently urging some to take a lantern to light our way. As she lifts her suitcase we follow, treading through moss scented woods like hobbits trailing Gandalf. A butter coloured moon playing hide and seek slips between branches yearning for solstice. Each snap of a branch beneath our feet a moment of worried caution.

In the primordial dark and impregnable silence of the forest, fears and memories lurk we’re usually kept safe from. Along with treasures we’ve mostly forgotten. A world were nonsense often makes the most sense. Like a man, buried alive up to his chest, winding a hand held projector showing a black and white, home movie on the lid of his suitcase. Or a lamp plugged into the soil that suddenly gives light. Or being gathered around a secret place, furrowing through soil to unveil an expected feast; potatoes cooked naturally in the earth. We gather round, share food and drink, standing or sitting on blankets. Reenacting a primal ritual, sitting together for safety and the sharing of stories. With a wind-up projector the woman shares her story behind a child’s painting. Our new arrival reveals the source of his heartache. A music box melody reminding us all this is forever old and eternally new, lost in time and forever timeless. After we've returned to the earth the riches it has given us, we pack up and move on.

Only to discover we are not alone. Other groups promenade through the midnight forest, following other lost wanderers carrying their lives in a single suitcase. They greet like old friends and lovers till we all converge around a man with a hand-wound music box. Lights are magically strewn and music joyously erupts like a party at a gypsy camp. For a moment the world is sublime. Only utter, shared joy. But like the snapped twig, something unseen threatens. The pained, frustrated wanderers gather their suitcases. Each leaving a parting gift in the darkness as they walk on. Endless wanderers, or homeless refugees, disappearing into the trees. Whatever they are, they are part of us, as we are part of them. As you return to your bus to ferry you back to the city, the silence lingers. You discover you’ve received far more than you have given. Have made your own what you were willing to embrace and share. Above, the night sky is crystal clear. The stars silently applauding.

Telling truths older than time, Alter is theatre at its most primal. Rooted to the earth, Alter might not be the greatest show on earth. But then again, it might be. Not to be missed.

Alter, presented and performed by Kamchàtka, runs as part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2024 until June 16.

For more information, visit Cork Midsummer Festival 2024


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