By Herbie Stewart, Second Year Mathematics
A visually and audibly magical theatrical performance at the Bristol Old Vic, grounded in its moving portrayal of our relationships with the world.
It is impossible to fully describe the atmosphere throughout Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead in a succinct way. It was violent and sad, yet filled with laughter and love.
The narrator and protagonist Janina Duszejko, played by the relentlessly brilliant Kathryn Hunter, is an animal enthusiast. She watches as a series of brutal murders are carried out around her area, each clued with evidence of animal’s revenge for their slaughter of wildlife.
Based on the book by Olga Tokarczuk of the same name, the production constantly reminds its audience of animal abuse through references to William Blake’s poetry. Powerful messages of love for nature pepper the story, through discussions on astrology, hunting, sustainable production, and vegetarianism. It is like a case study on nature, wrapped within a compelling, powerful story.
The show is set on the Czech-Polish border, in a rural hamlet constantly fighting the cold climate, isolation, and despair. The set is predominantly dark, keeping the audience on edge as the small cast often depict shadowy figures. It is this enigmatic, nervous feeling that makes the lighter moments so much more rewarding.
The play is not lacking in these lighter moments. There are jokes about Covid-19, the CSI, and a character who would not stop mentioning how he urinated on a spruce tree. There are beautifully developed messages on being isolated yet comfortable in nature, a funny and touching friendship between teacher and student, and a warm if incompetent neighbour nicknamed Oddball.
This ability to flip tone turns the audience on its head in a matter of moments and is what drives home one of the most important themes of the play: human duality.
We are not necessarily told what to think most of the time, whether to sympathise with the animals, with the animal protectors, or with the humans who kill and exploit them?
We are constantly forced to question our own hypocrisy. Why can we look at meat in the supermarket but not the ripped flesh of a bear? Is quarrying important for jobs or harmful to wildlife? How important is animal life, is it as important as our own? Does religion promote the culling of animals? These are not easy questions but Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of The Dead does not hope to answer them, it just throws these questions into consideration.
This is a special play; the sort of experience I thought about long after it ended. It is touching and personable, but also enormous and relevant. Above all, it makes you think and ponder our relationships with each other and nature. It is a masterpiece that I undoubtedly recommend.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Bristol Old Vic, Camilla Adams
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