Emerging from the UK premiere of the Forman brothers’ 'Deadtown' is rather like waking from a dream. A pleasant, oddly gentle but also mildly unsettling and bizarre dream. Images stick. Sounds. Shapes. You feel a sense of having been part of something special but struggle to define exactly what. This is a unique piece of hypnotic theatre which shifts from vaudevillian circus to something far more fantastic as we are invited to journey into the depths of the Wild West with a host of comedians, illusionists, gunfighters and beautiful ladies.
Directed by Petr Forman, ‘Deadtown’ is billed as a ‘breath-taking Wild West tale of live action, film and magic.' The sons of Oscar-winning Milos Forman bring together a cast of 20 acrobats, dancers, singers and musicians from across Europe to perform this wonderfully surreal Western tale. Illusion, reality and fantasy merge in a dreamlike sequence of scenes, variously transporting us from saloon dancers and gun slinging shoot-outs to roller-skating cowboys, mechanical dolls and bicycle acrobatics.
Designers Josef Sodomka and Matej Forman skilfully conjure a range of shadowy settings, from a cheap cabaret bar in Prague at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the deserted plains of Arizona and a saloon bar in ‘Deadtown’ itself, a dreamlike place in which the boundary between illusion and reality is blurred. Other than a few words with the audience and the songs (there’s a delightful rendition of ‘The Tennessee Waltz’ accompanied by a roller-skating cowboy trio) the show is dominated by live music from an endlessly energetic onstage band and an immersive soundscape.
The fusing of projection and Josef Lepsa's animation and film with live action is mesmerising, weaving a tale of love and dreams which follows gambler and feared gunslinger Toat, armadillo hunting stinkard Jacques and saloon maid Josefine. The experience of watching the dream unfold on stage taps into a childlike wonder. Excitement and joy in the early circus acts (a bicycle somersault on a trampoline is breath-taking) gives way to curiosity and intrigue as the story shifts to ‘Deadtown’ and we meet the locals.
The sequences which pay homage to the silent film era are beautifully realised as the stage is soaked in sepia tones and projections create the grainy, flickering quality of a silent western film perfectly. An immersive, wonderfully surreal journey to a faraway land. You haven’t seen anything like this before: a rare opportunity to see one of the most innovative theatre companies in Europe.
‘Deadtown’ is playing at The Birmingham Rep on Friday 28th June (7.30pm) and Saturday 29th June (4pm) 2019. It is the launch event of the BE Festival, which brings international work from across Europe to the heart of Birmingham.