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Enduring Song

1/5
© Graham Turner

'Enduring Song'

2/5
© Graham Turner

'Enduring Song'

3/5
© Graham Turner

'Enduring Song'

4/5
© Graham Turner

'Enduring Song'

5/5
© Graham Turner

'Enduring Song'

You certainly can’t fault the ambition of Bear Trap Theatre Company. Their latest production squares up to the biggies of faith, love, family and identity – all against the backdrop of The Crusades. It switches between a ragtag collection of young knights making their way to Jerusalem and those they’ve left behind, struggling to survive on a failing farm in France.

This is a lot of terrain to cover and, sadly, this production stumbles across much of it. At times it’s like watching a very long trailer for a TV mini-series. Writer and director Jesse Briton packs in so many subplots that, even in nearly three hours of theatre, none has proper time to breathe. Issues like the ethics of occupation jostle for attention with enough personal melodrama to keep a soap going for years.

The echoes of conscription in the opening scenes – the devastating effect on the farm of losing a whole generation of young men – are well handled, but otherwise the tone is inconsistent. Proceedings swing clunkily between weird ‘Carry-On’-style cultural comedy and portentous speeches in the shadow of big crosses. Characters speed through innumerable conflicts before we have time to care.

The staging is also confusing, with the second half’s French farm and Holy Land juxtapositions crowding the stage and making it difficult to follow what’s going on and, sometimes, where. The choral singing and dancing that accompanies several scenes is nice, but these elements feel superfluous in comparison with their use in Bear Trap’s last production at Southwark, the superb ‘Bound’.

The cast do their best, and there’s some cracking fight choreography, but too often the performances seem to belong to different plays, veering between jarringly broad comedy and chest-beating misery. In the end, what Briton’s ‘Enduring Song’ lacks is a clear voice.

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