Hector Hugh Munro was a satirist writer from the early 20th century who volunteered to serve in the army during World War I. Sadly for the literature world, the piercingly funny writer died when a German sniper found him during the Battle of Somme, leaving behind a legacy of short stories to rival the likes of Oscar Wilde. His dark, yet optimistic style, aimed to mischievously reveal the issues that plague the Edwardian society and its culture. It was his wit and macabre sense of storytelling that Saki, Munro’s pen name, used to calm down the soldiers that accompanied him in the trenches. This is where “Life According To Saki” by Katherine Rundell decides to uncover Saki’s force as a storyteller and the effects that it can have in humanity during the darkest of moments.
The clever pace in which this production moves makes the evening an entertaining one, but it is the performance by David Paisley as Saki, which includes the audience members as if they were one of the men by his side, that makes it memorable. Portrayed with impeccable charm by Paisley, it is easy to become part of his circle since his demeanor invites us in. Rundell uses Saki’s short stories to discuss the human condition from childhood to the final destination, and Paisley’s performance makes sure we understand that below his sense of humor there’s a man trying to understand what life is while death surrounds him.
The ensemble of “Life According to Saki” tackled each story with courage, using their bodies to transform the environment and gives us a sense of the world around them. Jessica Lazar’s direction made this possible by building the moments with movement and smart use of props. The actors had no problem taking on the challenges, which made the men more real, even though we never really met them as men, but as pieces of his short stories.
To tell a story so rich, an arsenal of techniques were used, and each one of them hit the proverbial nail on the head. The puppetry was both hilarious and compelling, adding layers to the production. The simple use of projection was clean, and the reactions by the people on stage to them was perfectly in sync. And while not every tale worked as well as others, the ones that worked made us easily forget those that didn’t. Nevertheless, it barely takes away from the enjoyment and the impact that it will have at the end.
“Life According to Saki” was the winner of the Best of Edinburgh Award at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Saki’s work has somehow not become as well known as it should have following his death. This production reassures the audience that this man’s work is not to be missed. Jessica Lazar’s direction reassured us that this show is not to be missed, either.
Out of 4 stars:
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