“Understated cartoon” may sound like an oxymoron, but that is the subtle triumph of Dancing Brick’s 60-minute snapshot Perle, currently playing in the Soho Theatre’s studio space. Written and performed by Verity Bargate Award-winning Thomas Eccleshare and smartly directed by company co-founder Valentina Ceschi, this piece, appropriately enough, is a small theatrical gem, somehow translating 14th-century Middle English dream-vision poem Pearl into a quirky multimedia show, while maintaining its aching meditation on grief.
In place of Christian doctrine (Pearl’s emphasis on accepting the will of God becomes more generalised sentiment about living with a terrible loss), there is interesting exploration of our reliance on technology as a way to experience and process the world. Eccleshare’s sad clown protagonist, a contemporary Commedia dell’Arte Pierrot, can only communicate via VHS tapes played on his TV, with memories, thoughts, feelings and exchanges strictly ordered and controlled.
This is often played for laughs, with delightfully goofy meta commentary and fun demonstration of the protagonist’s mood or speech through different fonts and pictures, but there is also a haunting sadness about his social disconnect. While the theme is a tad underdeveloped, there’s certainly a suggested correlation between the isolation of insurmountable pain and the consequences of our tendency to choose a safe, artificially constructed world over the real one.