Formalny / Baltic, School for Fools

Review in Issue 13-3 | Autumn 2001

School for Fools is a masterful piece of visual and physical theatre, the rich tapestry of narrative threads woven together into a story that is both a heartbreaking picture of schizophrenia and a joyful celebration of the universal rites-of-passage of boyhood.

It begins with a familiar postmodern theatrical device – the narrator/confessor talking directly to the audience about the story to follow. As this is a story of split personality, we have two ‘I’s telling the tale… The difficulty of translating from the Russian is itself used as part of the theatrical content of this introduction, as language and gesture move out of synch to hilarious effect. We then move into the main body of the piece. Semi-translucent curtains create layers of space and time in the performance space. Behind these soft screens we see a world in motion, reminiscent of the beautiful ‘city symphony’ films of the 1930s: the moving shadows of a swirled skirt, stark graphical outlines of a passing bicycle, figures grouping together and dispersing like a flock of birds.

The unfolding story is helped along by a recorded spoken text – the soft accents of a Scottish child floating over the visual images. Yet it is the physical performance skills of the sixteen-strong ensemble that carry the most weight, creating a cornucopia of characters that – appropriately for the subject of schizophrenia – appear and disappear, mutate and morph: the mad babushka, the melancholic teacher, the tiny ballerina, the adored mother.

As with Alain-Fournier’s novel Le Grand Meaulnes, I know that these images of a lost childhood will haunt me for a long time to come.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Aug 2001

This article in the magazine

Issue 13-3
p. 28