Based on the true story of Louise Michel, Paul Mason’s Divine Chaos of Starry Things at the White Bear Theatre is a historical play which, despite plenty of redeeming features, may leave audiences scratching their heads.
It’s the late 1800’s and a group of women revolutionaries, who fought alongside men, have been deported to the French colony of New Caledonia. Louise Michel befriends the islands indigenous people, The Kanaks, and tries to fight their cause as well as her own. At the same time she acts as a leader to a small group of fellow prisoners who, we are left feeling, would probably have been better off without her.
Though based on a true story, it’s not a particularly well known one, and the script doesn’t do much to help you out. A projector identifies the where and when but the ‘why’ is lacking, even with some knowledge of the era I struggled to grapple with the names of historical figures and movements.
Much is made of the importance of storytelling for the Kanaks, but that’s not entirely reflected in the play, things happen randomly with no precursor and are never mentioned again. Overall it gives a very disjointed impression and makes the whole thing difficult to follow and almost impossible to engage with the characters and their stories.
The cast do give passionate performances, in particular Ottilie Mackintosh who has a wonderfully expressive face. There’s impressive sound design from Lewis den Hertog, at one point as the sound of grasshoppers and locusts reached a crescendo, I found myself patting and scratching at my legs convinced the insects were actually there.
Director, Sasha McMurray, has staged the play well. From the lighting to the costumes everything looks and feels as it should. The wooden crates that make up the back drop and much of the set help to give a certain authenticity. Divine Chaos of Starry Things is an enjoyable play, but do pick up a programme which gives a handy history lesson that will help set the context.