A review of Sentinels by Caroline Jaine
Last Thursday I had a rare encounter with the Babolin Theatre group. Their one and only Cambridge performance of Sentinels was fully booked and I was lucky to have got a seat: fresh from Edinburgh Fringe success, the audience was filled with boisterous home-crowd friends.
When Sentinels opened with the “sculpted” cast members facing out to sea, the cast iron work of Antony Gormley immediately came to mind. The audience were soon silenced as Boudicca powerfully announced herself and her two daughters – three fine performances that would lead us through the narrative during the play.
Singling out the three actors is unfair and perhaps prompted by their refreshing presentation that related so well to a pet subject – that of contemporary analysis of feminism – “they are all Roman’s aren’t they” repeats Boudicca’s raped daughter throughout. Perhaps a cliché that young people should choose rape and death as subject matter, but far from the usual overacted teenage issues of “unfairness”, Sentinels is handled with absolute maturity and real sensitivity. You laugh, you weep, and you believe in every performance.
A multitude of other tales and characters expertly weave their way through Boudicca’s tragedy: a stone mason gripped with passion and frustration; an ever-so-slightly-camp Roman centurion; a drunken east ender; the delicacy of a speaking lump of granite; defacement; a plastic surgeon struggling with the bottle; and her errant step-daughter, who throws herself from a rooftop on the back of a grumpy gargoyle. And as complex as that sounds, it is not over ambitious – songs gently float from the performers, metallic painted costumes coordinate, and it is choreographed in such a way that Sentinels is presented as a cohesive whole.
As Anthony Gormley once said, “How do you make the timelessness of inert, silent objects count for something? How to use the dumbness of sculpture in a way that acts on us as living things?” Sentinels have somehow bridged a gap between the living and the silent object. I will never look at a statue in the same way again.
I’m sorry I missed the show in Edinburgh, and I am sorry for readers who have missed it entirely. Sentinels is now over. I would recommend watching out for any aspiring actors with Babolin Theatre experience in their CV. I will be disappointed and surprised if none of them meets with big stage or screen success.
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