Drones sweep overhead, orders are barked from speakers, and fires burn all around: so opens the ambitious, dystopian finale of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
Performed to thousands of people on derelict land just outside of the city centre, Periplum’s 451 was all about the scale of the spectacular. Dozens of poles topped with aerials and speakers dotted the performance area, searchlights bedazzled and blinded the audience as they were advanced on by giant wheeled ladders carrying the piece’s ironically titled ‘firemen’ from scene to scene.
Based on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the show tells the story of Montag, a ‘fireman’ charged with burning books who doubts his mission and begins to hoard and prize the contraband literature.
It does it with bombast and fierce style, whether it’s the violin player standing atop a pyre or the lead spinning uncontrollably in a gyroscope as his confusion and confliction take hold.
A large-scale production is perhaps not the place for subtlety but Periplum’s stripping down of the story removes some of Montag’s humanity and therefore his motivation: we do not see his wife, his curious relationship with his young neighbour, his forced destruction of what he holds dear.
There was more room for political comment, with the strident fire captain barking that we have been tolerant for too long and that is no longer enough to obey the law — words that I doubt were accidentally close to those used by David Cameron in a recent speech on extremism.
On its own terms this was a sensory feast and an engaging piece of outdoor theatre.
As a retelling of Bradbury’s novel, it lost a little too much plot to the flames.