Caragh Medlicott reviews In Pursuit of Maud, a darkly comic cabaret created by Caroline Sabin featuring a mix of song, dance and theatre.
If there’s one thing the last two years have lacked it’s a good dollop of fun. The arts are getting back on their feet and audiences are seeking amusement and pleasure as often as profundity and grit. Happily for the thrill-seekers, In Pursuit of Maud delivers in the quarters of eccentricity and laughter. A sequel of sorts, this dark comedy follows on from Caroline Sabin’s previous sell-out show Mysterious Maud’s Chambers of Fantastical Truth. Returning characters Maud and friend-turned-accomplice Igor are back with a new tale of scientific experimentation gone, that’s right, “horribly, horribly wrong”. A hodgepodge of gothic pastiche, character slapstick and good old fashioned goofiness, if the real world seems drab and depressing then there’s no doubt that Sabin has cooked up a defiant alternative.
The show’s gothic sensibility is only heightened by its opening location at Insole Court. Aside from the house’s native creaking floorboards and dusty chandeliers, a fairly minimal set is enlivened by the digital screen created by BAFTA winner Chris Crow. Styled to look like nothing more than a scientist’s blackboard, this digital portal becomes a key part of the story’s unravelling. Performed in a cabaret style, the show follows dual plotlines which wobble along in sometimes erratic – always eccentric – bursts of song, performance, dance, and storytelling. Firstly, the titular storyline: the missing Maud who Igor is pursuing. A rogue experiment which sought to swap Maud’s brain with that of an albatross has resulted in the bird running off inside Maud’s body, leaving Maud’s own brain to stagnate in a jar. Without his mistress, Igor must rely on reports from “the little people” (the little people being insects) in order to uncover the whereabouts of Maud’s lost body. While he’s low on clues, Igor is more than willing to fill the intervening time with musical numbers, both original and parodies, detailing a catalogue of past mad experiments and lamenting his missing friend.
Rowan Talbot is joyous as Igor, bubbling with charisma and satisfyingly creepy. The show’s rhythm runs on a kind of rotation. Igor performs and sings on stage. Then, the digital screen is wheeled forward to reveal both the inner monologue of the bodiless Maud (depicted here tight-lipped in a cascade of feathers) – as well as the dancing escapades of the albatross who is now running amuck in her human form. The final part of this cycle is made up by a perhaps unlikely segment of storytelling. The audience is read to by an anonymous narrator in an armchair, regaled with the origin story of Igor and Maud’s friendship. The movement between these various sections requires an often self-referenced “suspension of disbelief”, but is hardly effortful in a realm of such oddity.
There’s no denying that, here, performance supersedes story. That there is a plot at all is really only of minor importance, stakes are low and sub-characters (such as Maud’s aunt and wife) are little more than loose sketches – vehicles for visual exploration. While the general theme is a festival of Victorian gothicism and campy Halloween drama, there is a nod of Welshness in the vast array of landscapes we see Maud’s untethered body pass through in the screened segments. Certainly, too, the bird in the body of a human offers a fruitful premise for the filmed dance numbers.
Peppered with genuine nuggets of scientific information, In Pursuit of Maud has a quietly didactic edge which, in its gleeful irreverence, recalls the likes of Horrible Histories. A bizarre concoction indeed, this show tickles and prods. A romp for misfits, In Pursuit of Maud offers heady respite from the monochrome of the mundane.
In Pursuit of Maud will be at Insole Court, Cardiff until 26th February with other dates at The Ulcheldre Centre, Anglesey and Torch Theatre, Milford Haven in March.