Alma, a Human Voice @ Summerhall

Nina’s Drag Queens both move and confuse us in their ambitious two-tailed approach

Review by Caitlin A Kearney | 14 Aug 2018

Alma, a Human Voice is the surreal narrative of Alma Mahler, a composer whose life was that of a wife and muse to many other shades of artist, who has been turned into a life-sized doll by her lover, Oskar Kokoschka. It is also homage to Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, through the actual recorded voice of Ingrid Bergman conveying the role in the 1966 TV film (dir. Ted Kotcheff). Delivered by a cast of one and through a drag aesthetic, the story is dense in information and highly emotional.

Lorenzo Piccolo seems to take inspiration from Bergman’s own performance as he swings between mouthing to her anguished monologue over the phone and storytelling at breakneck speed. Occasionally he startles with sudden questions for individuals in the audience, which oddly seem to hint at an awareness of the relative obscurity of the subject material. Some stirring visual and aural imagery is on display; pills fizzing themselves out in crystal glasses, on-stage lighting emulating fire, clever shadow play, and some touching movement scores struck by Piccolo.

The show falls short, though not in its mission to make us feel; it is an unquestionably highbrow production, not through the subject matter alone but through the intricately patched range of references, and though there is no good reason to talk down to a fringe audience, it is questionable whether this aids in the conveyance of the “human voice”. It is worth asking why the piece is knowingly created in such a way that a full A4 sheet of details necessarily needs to be handed to each patron on the way in without explanation of when would be the time to read it.

Alma produces the vague sensation that one is looking in on a private understanding; lovely, sensitive, but requiring too much prior knowledge of the circumstances to be deeply intimate.

Alma, a Human Voice, Summerhall (Old Lab), 1-26 Aug (not 8, 13, 20), £10-£7.50

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