The Old Woman, Manchester International Festival

Following Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis with The Old Woman gives one the impression that this year’s Manchester International Festival has a Soviet feel about it, although the latter is based on the Daniil Kharms 1939 novella and so predates Adam Curtis’s 1975 year zero by some decades.

The Old Woman is pitched as absurdist, which to the casual observer it is, but absurdity evaporates the more consideration the is given to the work. It is not this play that is absurd, but the world. The Old Woman captures the futility of our attempts to impose order on the world and the mental collapse that comes with experiencing that it is without order. Clocks without hands always report the time as a quarter-to-three; words are repeated, repeated and repeated again until the search for meaning is over… the search itself has robbed them of meaning; we can no longer count beyond six; old women, lemming like, follow each other out of a window and shatter until our only reaction is boredom. We discover that all of our knowledge is an illusion.

The performances of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe are so wonderful that it possible to enjoy The Old Woman as no more than wonderful nonsense, nothing more than a surreal slapstick. On this level, the actors are often upstaged by the stage itself. Robert Wilson’s minimalist creation is simply perfect.

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