Lost in the Wind is a play about a man who gets blown into a world full of strange characters who initially treat him with suspicion and mistrust before arriving at a state of common understanding and making a brave journey into the wilderness. Or it’s an allegory for the suffering of an armless widow and her rickets-riddled children in the Great Plague. It’s hard to know for sure and only the synopsis in the program would suggest that the former is closer to the truth.
The problem does not specifically lie in the lack of abundantly clear narrative, which would be expecting a bit much from a piece of physical theatre that contains minimal dialogue beyond yelps and gobbledegook, but more in the confused and jarring mixture of tones that are present throughout.
The characters inhabiting this other world are without exception schizophrenic nutjobs with the combined mental age of a baby chick who’s mother hen mainlined smack into her eyeball. One minute they’re quite contentedly getting on together, the next one has viciously attacked another’s pet potato, cried about it and felt remorse, then not ten seconds later he’s having a fight with another character and his snake, beaten him up and started crying again. But by the time all the characters are back together on stage again all previous grievances appear to have been forgotten and they’re off in some other crackpot direction involving being a submarine and firing foam torpedoes at someone they don’t like.
That would be fine if there were any sense of direction or progress behind the characters but like goldfish in a bowl they just keep floating around, apparently blissfully unaware of a sense of raison d’etre beyond who has the bigger balloon. It’s no wonder that the main character who has ventured into this world is initially confused before slowly submitting to their banal madness. What you feel these toddlers of the imagination need is a quick clip around the ear and a few minutes in the cool down corner but that never happens.
The story is no doubt forsaken to make way for the physical set pieces and in places there are some wonderful moments. The exploration of different elemental conditions on stage, especially the snow laden finale, are clearly presented and create some powerful images. But elsewhere the show is let down by a lack of technical proficiency. Trying to mime that a floating balloon is immobile requires the mime artist to ensure that the balloon does not move at all, not even a little. It may seem like nitpicking but it’s just one example of where the imagination and commitment of the cast is let down by an inability to professionally manipulate their tools.
The ultimate complement that can be given to a puppeteer is that their movements were ignored due to all the attention being focused on the puppet’s motions. But the puppets in this case were either poorly conceived (a shapeless newspaper construction that is more human than broadsheet) or interesting to watch but pointless. If you can’t believe in the human characters, how are you meant to commit to a stick figure puppet who is parachuting just for the hell of it?
There was nothing overtly offensive about the production, there was just nothing for the audience to connect to, to make them feel that they were part of this world. This was not helped by moments where the actors would turn to the audience and play for laughs, a ploy that was completely at odds with the overall mood of the show, nor by a non-committal stance on gobbledegook. A play without dialogue is one thing. A play where the cast communicate via incomprehensible mumbo jumbo is another. But a middle ground of some characters who are unintelligible and some who’s meaning is basically clear if you listen hard enough, achieves nothing but confusion and muddle.
Lost in the Wind is a sketch of what it’s trying to be. The ideas are there but it lacks direction and execution. At its best it’s nice to watch. And that’s meant as a complement but not an overwhelming one.