In Borges and I, Idle Motion Theatre mixes multiple narratives into a physical pastiche of the life and works of Jorge Borges. Taking on a literary heavyweight in just under an hour is a tall order by any company’s standards, and while the Oxford ensemble works animated wonders with its book-strewn stage, time and resources limit the piece to the cursory marks of the late author’s life.
The play’s focus is split between a thematic tour of an imagined Borges and the daily travails of young members in a present-day book club. The Argentine author is brought to life through a series of visual metaphors, frantically intercut with stark, film-like transitions. Among the vignettes are a wonderful torch and coat-made tiger, a book-built aeroplane fit for a Little Prince, and in one of several nods to Complicite, a flight of paper birds. David Luke steps in and out of slow-motion movement pieces as a silent, foreboding Borges, meeting the audience head-on, while audio excerpts from key works add a secondary, philosophical layer to this bioplay.
The recurrent book club scenes, with their comedic and vernacular tone, are staged in a brightly lit semicircle that purposely disrupts the play’s poetic flow. It allows the group to tackle the Borgesian thematic from the point of view of the club members. Thus, Nick (Nick Pitt) falls in love with Sophie (Sophie Cullen) who soon after begins to lose her sight, placing a well-delivered, sombre slant on the hitherto unquestioned act and meaning of reading. Meanwhile Kate (Kate Stanley) is busy preparing for a life-changing job at the prestigious Bodleian library and uses the group as a sounding board for her trepidations.
The company’s strength is without doubt its tightly coordinated manipulation of space. The ability to transform a tiny, empty square into a detailed, textured and low-tech landscape of the imaginary, bodes well for future work with greater resources. Ambition and ideas are clearly not in short supply here. Where the production suffers is in its dealings with the literary legacy of Borges, which to me is of greater excitement and complexity than the well-noted biographical ‘truths’. This abundance of fertile, provocative writings, many of which have found new resonance in the Internet age, take an unsatisfying background stance in Borges and I.
‘The library’, writes Borges, ‘exists ab aeterno’ and defines ‘the future eternity of the world’. Eternity in an hour is asking the impossible, but a riskier, more intrepid journey into the matrix of a literary mind, his short stories for example, would certainly not go amiss. Watch out for Idle Motion Theatre this summer with their new show, The Vanishing Horizon.