‘Miss Ophelia’ - Het Filiaal
Even before she’s born, Ophelia’s parents dream of her becoming an actress. She grows up to love the theatre but she has a tiny voice, no louder than a whisper. Eventually she finds her niche as a prompter, watching the most beautiful performances in the world from a tiny box facing the stage. After many happy years, the theatre closes down and Miss Ophelia embarks on a new adventure. She agrees to look after a crowd of homeless shadows and through them discovers her genius for storytelling.
In this piece, based on a book by Michael Ende (author of ‘Momo’ and ‘The Neverending Story’), Dutch company Het Filiaal play with a mixture of live performance, toy theatre and shadows that fit the story perfectly. The two performers move with brio between different scales and viewpoints. The set is based on three workshop benches cluttered with hand-painted model houses, Anglepoise lamps, a record-player, OHP, paper and cardboard. The apparently naïve style is thoroughly considered, the technique unconcealed but the transitions slick and surprising.
As Ophelia, Mirthe Klieverik makes an instant but sympathetic transformation from stage-struck teenager to elderly lady. Ophelia also appears as a paper doll cut out by her bookish mother, and as a six-inch-tall flat figure, a sketch in black ink realised in chunky wood like Mrs Noah from an old-fashioned toy ark.
Klieverik and her fellow performer and director Ramses Graus have a background in physical theatre, and a warm and unforced charm. There is a pleasing specificity to the settings. Ophelia travels along a North American ‘big city’ street with hanging traffic lights (a model Gherkin in the background has evidently been added to amuse London audiences), and meets comedy French theatre-folk (with comedy cardboard moustaches), while a supermarket and bus stop have distinctly Dutch outlines. The sophisticated sound design takes us from the city to the sea, and from Charles Aznavour to Puccini, opening up larger emotional landscapes.
The production does not shy away from loss and pain: Ophelia faces old age, poverty and death, spiteful neighbours and a mean landlord. Yet the overall feeling is light and joyful. This is a rich production that works on many levels, with resonances for different ages. Just as Ophelia gives the shadows a home, the darker aspects of life find their place here. The shadows bring a rowdy, boyish energy into Ophelia’s life, leading her to tell her own fantastic stories. Together, they travel the country in a small van as ‘Miss Ophelia’s Shadow Theatre’.
‘Miss Ophelia’ by Het Filiaal played at The Barbican from 31 October - 7 November 2012.