100 by AsCend at Bristol Bierkeller Theatre review
Rob Rule reviews 100 by AsCend at Bristol Bierkeller Theatre
‘100’ is a physical performance piece by AsCend physical theatre, helmed by newly appointed director/actor Jacqueline Avery. The piece explores the concept of eternal recurrence – the idea of an infinite cyclical repetition of the universe, explored most famously in recent history by Friedrich Nietzsche – and asks its audience which singular moment from their life they would preserve to then live out for all eternity; all other memories and the people associated with them to be lost to the ether forever. The characters are given 100 ‘moments’ to make the decision by a sardonic guide (Avery) who dwells in the space between the living and the dead while she counts up the moments throughout the show’s hour long runtime.
Four characters find themselves at the limbotic shores of death, some in full knowledge of how they came to be there while others must try to piece together how they met their demise. A young couple (played by Maya Aitken and Bristol-raised Ellis J Wells) clash in the choosing of their final memories in much the same way they did when living, but it’s the flashbacks to their more tender moments that really engaged the audience. Ketu is a tribesman who believes the world to be round and is played by Mainga Mayeya. The character tackles the human dilemma of choosing between compromising or standing for you beliefs in the face of great adversity. Finally, Jane McKell’s character Sophie is a successful career woman with myriad achievements who somehow struggles to find the meaningful memories at the end of her time.
Set-wise, there are few distractions; the actors are dressed in all white garb which lends a soft contrast against the warm lowlight. A backdrop of white canvas onto which various footage is projected gives added energy to the more action-oriented scenes and a spatter of foliage to Ketu’s village. The actors make inventive use of long bamboo poles to create new structures and props as one scene shifts to another – and there’s an orange, too.
The play tackles some fundamental themes of the human condition through a diverse cast of characters to varying success – my one reservation being that I felt the sporadic moments of comedy lay uneasy on the overall piece. Luckily it seemed the audience didn’t agree and there were bouts of laughter throughout the night. For me the most compelling thread of ‘100’ is the ultimate sadness of the career-orientated Sophie and her process of finding the moment in her long life where she would like to reside forever, but it seemed everyone in the audience had their own story, character or idea that resonated most strongly with them. In a piece so dense, rich and original, it comes as little surprise.