In Eldersfield: An Elegy for Paul Dirac
Spill Festival 2011
The Pit, Barbican
To speak of In Eldersfield is to speak of a mesh; an interstice, an open space within the network of time and history. The fabric of this mesh is silence, in its potential to observe, question, understand, invoke. The content of this silence is a collective cultural history in the making, neither representational nor explanatory; one to which we belong, but to which we are not connected to. In Eldersfield is as much an elegy for the 20th century as it is a proposition for the 21st.
What’s striking about Kings of England’s ten-year long cycle of works dedicated to the 20th century, of which In Eldersfield is the first, is the dedication to and care for ideas, history and community so skilfully distilled into a performance. In Eldersfield abuses the theatrical conventions of silence, stillness, separation in order to invoke, to create a space in which both performers and audience can exist collectively. This is performance as a ceremony for the power of silence and stillness, attacking the immediacy we’re so concerned with and the superficiality it gives rise to; that urge to know all is replaced with the nostalgia and invocation for the heart of an idea, of a mentality to which we inherently belong.
Eldersfield- that place for the heroic and virtuous which we overlook; we often treat history with a concern for the aesthetic, not ideas, and this is what Kings of England are inviting us to invoke and consider.
This mosaic of anecdotes, moments and figures of 20th century centres around physicist Paul Dirac, and his infamous silence; asked where he was going on his holidays during the Solvay Conference, Dirac replied, twenty minutes later, with a question- ‘Why do you want to know?’. Kings of England invoke that silence and ask a different question in a sharing of ceremonies and moments, be it the Solvay Conference and its participants, here presented by a group of schoolchildren, or John Pinder’s invocation of Paul Dirac. A question about communication- and the refusal to answer. About memory and forgetting, and why it’s important to remember.
This ceremony stretches time in its constant dialogue with the past, from Simon Bowes’ moving words of introduction, like the start of an epic poem, to the folk music that guides the rituals throughout the performance. Referential to Robert Wilson’s operatic structures and John Cage’s compositions of silence, In Eldersfield never loses its scope, laying out clearly, from the onset, its language and context. As an audience, we know from the beginning that a twenty minute silence is an invitation to consider- one that if you chose to accept, is highly rewarding and unfolds in a search for that comfort to hold still and the caring presence of the company.
Yet to speak of the silence in In Eldersfield would be to limit its scope- because what is so potent about Kings of England’s elegy is its capacity to allow for a collective memory to unfold- it says so much with very little, and this is not only due to the genuine care for the ideas and memories the piece invokes, but also for its formal structure. Each ritual flows into the other- watching John Pinder become Paul Dirac, seeing the schoolchildren take the space as leading 20th century scientists, hearing an anecdote and watching it unfold in Bryony Kimming’s eerie dance- but there is a space to consider each of these moments. Carefully chosen from the fabric of 20th century, woven to enter a dialogue, Kings of England manage to address collective past with an open-ended question. In this presentation, we inherently become connected to it, better equipped to begin to answer. Delved into atmospheres and an aesthetic of reminiscence, we feel we’re part of this elegy.
In Eldersfield functions in a form of theatre that’s elastic, chronotopic, relational- so the moment extends beyond the performance, simultaneously delving into pasts and futures and histories written and histories that are about to be written, and histories that might never be written. This elasticity is a considerate, curious delving into the potential of theatre to exist in different spaces, places and moments in time whilst still remaining contemporary and most importantly, present.