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Review: The Last Pearl (Tron Theatre)

Updated: Jun 12

Strings, stilts, and sea in Irish puppetry performance

There is an ocean between the kind of shows that are performed in theatres and the kind that are performed within university walls. The latter often starts with abstract ideas, concepts that require academic study themselves, and translates them into performances that try to convey their nuance. Bringing that to paying audiences is no mean feat; one of the most successful attempts I have seen is David Finnigan’s ominously titled You’re Safe Til 2024, where the enormity of the environmental ideas he tries to communicate ultimately overwhelms his meta on-stage persona. But we still have brave ensembles the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company from Sligo, Ireland with their show The Last Pearl is loosely based on the ideas of James Lovelock (who proposed that the earth functions as a self-regulating system, known as the Gaia hypothesis). Through puppetry and visual theatre, the story focuses on a pregnant pearl diver, M, treasuring her finds and battling the elements.

Photo Credit: Peter Martin

The performance’s greatest strengths are the atmosphere and the striking imagery. Dark blue organza becomes silent and mesmerising waves. They seem harmless until we see the scale of the house perched on spindly stilts. When M sets out in a boat to find her treasures, the delicate vessel always feels at risk of being tipped over. Human life feels so delicate, and nature seems so blameless. Even better is when we see the puppet dive into the water, sifting through treasures and encountering jellyfish, before returning to the surface with her finds. There are breathtaking tableaus in this first act, and the level of craftsmanship and personality that the performers bring to the stage is impeccable.

But once those three settings have been established – the homes on stilts, the boat at sea, the diving in the water – they are repeated with little development. They are stunning each time, and the stillness of the atmosphere is remarkable in itself, but from a storytelling perspective, it leaves you wanting. The stillness also gives you a little too much opportunity to ask unwanted questions. Is she selling her finds, even though we never see it? How does she sustain herself in this hut on sticks? If she is a pearl diver why are there no pearls being shown? Should an expectant mother be freediving? None of these technicalities suit the fairytale-like world being built, but they become hard to ignore. The Last Pearl is beautiful in both idea and execution. You can feel the weight of the ideas behind it but do not expect to have learnt them by the end. If you arrive already intellectually acquainted with the Gaia hypothesis, the performance will give you an emotional connection to them in the way only live performance can. Without that knowledge, you can still enjoy the performance for its visual splendour, but it is best not to dive for narrative depth. Three stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "It was an amazing way of telling the story, hypnotising"

The Last Pearl has completed its run at the Tron Theatre


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