Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: DECIPHERING, New Diorama Theatre


Theatre company curious directive stage a splendid and layered reflection on artistic meaning and the intimate response to creativity and wonder.

BWW Review: DECIPHERING, New Diorama Theatre

BWW Review: DECIPHERING, New Diorama Theatre In 1940 a group of four teenage friends, thinking they'd be crawling through a secret passage to the close-by Lascaux Manor, made one of the most astonishing discoveries of the 20th Century. Over nine hundred paintings dating back god-knows-how-long, in their eyes. Something inside of them knew that they needed to preserve it, so they camped out day and night to protect it. Then WWII started, and they enrolled in the French resistance.

When the war ended, the two young men who were able to stay in France went back to the cave imagining the worst, but the sketches were still there as they'd left them. The last of those boys died in early 2020 after becoming a tour guide for the brief period when the French allowed people inside before sealing it off due to preservation needs.

From then, markings on the walls of caves all around the world have cropped up. The drawings of bison and other animals accompany the negative outlines of many, many hands. Whether these had some mysterious meaning or simply were early men leaving their mark, is still now known.

What we know, however, is that hands are a common feature in cave paintings all over Earth. An easy, practical "I was here" message, perhaps. Now cutting-edge theatre company curious directive are exploring the origins of human creativity in their new show. Around 37,500 years ago someone drew on the wall of a cave in Indonesia, and it will be up to Elise to figure out what these people wanted to pass on.

Deciphering is a wondrous piece of theatre. A classroom takes the main stage, while four timelines and three different versions of Elise (Asha Sylvestre, Sarita Gabony, Stephanie Street) intersect and interact with each other as we follow down her career path. "I want to imagine time in three dimensions" Kenny, her teacher when she was eight years old, tells her. Played by Lewis Mackinnon, he becomes a pivotal role in the young girl's life, single-handedly kicking off a celebration of educators and how they can shape the future of children with their passion and dedication.

The strengths and flaws of the education system come out as a layered reflection on how we nurture (or stifle) creativity in school-age kids. At the same time, the play is also greatly reproachful of the academic world. The structure cages 25-year-old Elise in the form of a professor (Amanda Hadingue) who keeps shutting her research down because she doesn't have a strong enough background. It's also a brilliant critique of the somewhat colonial politics of the preservation of non-Eurocentric archeological findings.

Now, in perfect curious directive style, the production is astounding in terms of technical delivery. The stage sits on a platform hoisted by chains; the cast invade the classroom, establishing time as a continuum rather than presenting past, present, and future as distinct lines while the platform moves to allow for some rock-climbing exploring of the aforementioned caves.

Director Jack Lowe weaves together times, places, and languages in a vivid tapestry that's as layered as the visual elements created by Zoë Hurwitz. The piece is filled to the brim with delicate and captivating moments, such as the eldest of the Elises scribbling symbols on a slide while the youngest traces over them on the blackboard they're casually projected onto.

Through all this, the audience is bubbled in by a set of headphones that pick up every whisper spoken on stage and heighten the exquisite experience. While the sound's being directed straight to each member of the crowd detaches them from the collective theatre-going experience, it refocuses the attention on the subject matter and, somehow, on their own interior world.

By the end, Deciphering is a splendid and layered reflection on artistic meaning, the importance of nurturing children and their creative inclinations, and the intimate response to creativity and wonder. It's simply sublime.

Deciphering runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 2 October.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

Related Articles View More UK / West End Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Cindy Marcolina