Marcin Bartnikowski and Marcin Bikowski are two versatile and engaging performers from Polish theatre company Teatr Hotel Malabar. Lauder! is their bold story of a boy who loses his father during the attack on the World Trade Centre. The show is inspired by Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and although its poignancy is apparent, it owes a lot to his evocative work.
The location of the tale is important and one of the first elements the audience notices. On the floor of the stage is a basic chalk map of New York. Towards the back, several curious puppets sit in unassuming poses. These look grotesque and distorted; credit must go to designer and cast member Marcin Bikowski for his ability to depict horror. The terror continues throughout Lauder! as the performance becomes more abstract and challenging. Projected visuals keep the action focused on New York through photographs and images from Google Street View. This is augmented with narration from our child protagonist as he searches for the lock that accompanies a key he found in the aftermath of 9/11. This impossible task adds to the frustration of the performance but also makes Lauder! a poignant and compelling piece of theatre. We want the child to success despite the difficulty of the mammoth task.
References to Shakespeare are littered throughout the piece, with the cast quoting lines from Hamlet. This does little to further the drama and seems a tad too distracting but does add to the madness. Music for Lauder! comes from Charlotte Wilde, whose restrained soundtrack adds to the dreamlike nature of the performance and makes the abstraction simpler to follow.
Teatr Hotel Malabar are clearly a company who like to provoke. The performance ends with video footage on a laptop that is placed centre stage. Here we see newsreels from 9/11 played backwards, again evoking imagery from Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The laptop is the closed and the small puppets, who have remained static throughout, are now the focus in the dramatic conclusion. Lauder! is an abstract and challenging performance with non-linear storytelling and confusion at its core and this makes it a very interesting and engaging theatre experience.