Mark Bruce Company’s Return to Heaven is surprising and deceptive from the beginning. The set is indeed squeezed in, as Mark Bruce warned me, with the cast already on it as the audience arrive. We are instantly aware they are offering us something different, and that our job as their audience is to have an open mind and soak it up.
The remarkable cast of six quickly take us through vastly different scenarios, which is very unsettling. From a gentle swing dance, to apocalyptic headless bleeding gods, and back to calypso and wine on the beach, all melting in and out of the darkness on stage. Our lead couple somehow deal with whatever is thrown at them, not only dancing but acting their socks off, showing us that it is because they have each other that they can manage this yo-yo of emotions.
Bristol24/7 relies on your support to fund our independent journalism and social impact projects. Become a member and enjoy exclusive perks from just £5 per month.
I’m not sure I warned my companion exactly how emotionally dark this would be. There are references to our screwball world, with many scenes reminiscent of various world crises we are facing at the moment – global disease, nuclear armament, planetary collapse. Mix that with some classic cinemagraphic horror, and you got yourself a full frontal slap in the face. Do not ever take young kids to this show.
But it’s because Mark Bruce presents it with such grace and humility that makes Return to Heaven a theatrical gift. His light choreographic touch is excellent. I’m a fan of the elegant twirls of tango rippled in with conventional contemporary. The odd traditional Irish skip is a perplexing addition, but it certainly solicits a smile, and is part of his fabric of madness.
Mark Bruce delivers what he promises – a reflection of life’s turbulent ebb and flow from the vile to the humorous, the scary to the beautiful. At least my life is a bit like that, so I personally find an overwhelming sense of peace being able to escape mine for a while and be taken on an even wilder ride.
Bruce seems to echo the Ancient Egyptians’ practice of looking to nature in an attempt to rationalize the crazy world we live in. He uses many powerful symbols of the soul, death and rebirth, such as the butterfly. I welcome his insight, and feel glad to have been a guest in his dystopian dream, where Aliens met Harry Belafonte. In darkness there is light. In hopelessness, we find love and companionship. Go see this if you can.
Return to Heaven is at Tobacco Factory Theatres Wednesday, February 5 to Saturday February 8, 2020, touring until April 29. For more information and tour dates, visit www.markbrucecompany.com/index.php/productions/current-projects/76-return-to-heaven
Main photo: Christopher Thomas and Sharol Mackenzie by Nicole Guarino