Review: Shooting with Light by Idle Motion

In the last few years, Idle Motion have been taking the world by storm with their particular brand of physical and visual storytelling, and their newest show, Shooting with Light, is the latest, and most mature, in their exceptional canon of work.

Shooting with Light began as a piece about photography, but came alive during the research period when the company uncovered the remarkable story of Gerda Taro, the pioneering war photographer who has been almost forgotten by history, largely because of her gender. The play tells the story of Taro, whose work was subsumed by that of her lover, Robert Capa because the media did not take seriously a female war photographer. Her early death in 1937, at the age of 26, probably also did much to obscure her talent. With this play, Idle Motion are redressing that balance, and returning Gerda Taro to her proper place in history, acknowledged as a groundbreaking and brave pioneer of photo-journalism.

But this is not a simple love story, as anyone who knows Idle Motion’s work will guess. Several stories are interwoven: the blossoming love of Taro and Capa and their determination to highlight the plight of civilians in the Spanish Civil War is intermingled with Capa’s brother’s search for his missing work, in particular the one photograph Robert told him was the most important and “the only one”. Its discovery in Mexico City, years after Capa’s own death, yielded not only the negative for which his brother was searching, but also the body of Taro’s work, which had remained unacknowledged for decades.

The ensemble that is Idle Motion is fluid, both in their stunning movement sequences and in their make-up. In this production, performer Kate Stanley steps offstage to direct, and the remaining Idle Motion ‘regulars’ are joined by Julian Spooner, who featured recently in Idle Motion’s brilliant Borges and I as Capa, and newcomer Nathan Parkinson playing Capa’s brother, Cornell. Idle Motion co-Artistic Directors make up the remaining cast: Gerda is ably played by Sophie Cullen, Cornell’s tireless research assistant, June, by Grace Chapman and Ruth, the Mexican lady who brought the missing negatives to light, by Ellie Simpson. It’s testament to the skill of the cast and director that no one performance stands out above the others; instead, they form a perfectly-balanced ensemble.

At this point I have to pause to pay tribute to Ellen Nabarro’s wonderful set design. It’s deceptive in its simplicity: a wall of white boxes, which open individually or severally to form drawers, windows, doors, balconies and telephone kiosks, and onto which are projected an array of photographs which put the talent of the protagonists firmly at the centre of the piece. In front of these, the ensemble use their physicality to animate shocking war scenes, pausing to reflect the stills as the photographers capture single images in a flash of light.

Shooting With Light is a captivating piece of physical and visual storytelling that leaves you ultimately satisfied, not only because the production is thoroughly engaging and sweeps you along in its dynamic, but also because you leave knowing more about a remarkable woman who deserves recognition for her achievements. Many of Idle Motion’s productions remain in their repertoire and tour all over the world, so hopefully this show will continue to delight audiences for years to come. If you get a chance to see it, don’t hesitate! I guarantee you’ll have a wonderful evening.

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