Perle shows a life on pause. A man sits staring at his television, watching one video tape after another. At first he looks like any other screen-junkie, forsaking the big wide world for small screen box sets, but gradually you realise that he’s grieving for his daughter. Square eyes, it seems, don’t shed so many tears.
All he has left of her is a stack of home videos. We will all leave behind – and somehow live on through – digital footprints; unchanging reflections that can suck in the grief-stricken and swallow them whole.
You’d never guess that Dancing Brick’s source material was an anonymous fourteenth-century Middle English poem. It’s an incredibly deft rendering of something pretty inaccessible and, to judge from its irksome, insistent alliteration, somewhat blunt. Yet Thomas Eccleshare, whose debut play ‘Pastoral’ ran at Soho earlier this year, pulls out the odd line of startling beauty: “I lost her to a garden.”
But Eccleshare remains silent in this live-cartoon, a duet between man and machine. He’s too brittle to speak. Instead his words appear in onscreen speech bubbles. So does his world. He reaches behind the TV to pick up the line-drawn phone in Serge Seidlitz’s animation or make himself a 2D sandwich. Still hungry afterwards, he simply rewinds the tape with an impish smile.
Inevitably you spot the odd join and the pace can dawdle towards maudlin, but the form makes it into an expressive stage poem that can blur banalities into daydreams. Eccleshare shakes thoughts out of his head like dandruff and a tangle of ‘If onlys’ appear onscreen.
‘Perle’ won’t show you grief in a new light; in fact, it takes a nimble and upbeat performance from Eccleshare to stave off sentimentality. What it is, however, is an elegant, delicate miniature, slight but exquisite and, above all, compassionate. In short: ‘Perle’s a gem.
By Matt Trueman