Zoo (Venue 124)Aug 11-25 at 12:30
Box OfficeAdults £10 / Concessions £8

How does a child of the only humans to have known pure Edenic peace become “the world’s first murderer”? As “a psychological thriller that plunges into the heart of darkness where sound, movement and rhythm fuse to create a physically pulsating stage adventure”,[1] Animikii Theatre’s Origins is ostensibly less interested in the “how” than in the “why” — or at least in how the “why” came to be. Given how much time the Bible devotes to the narrative of Adam and Eve’s forbidden knowledge via that fateful apple, it is peculiar that the so-called “first murder” ever recorded is essentially summarised as a snap decision, a jealous fit of rage that comes from absolutely nowhere.

Origins begins by shifting the chronology of events and laying the intensely emotional foundations of the piece: Cain is bent under a cloak, haggard and exiled from his homeland. In an embryonic sleep, memories awaken of his childhood with brother Abel; we are taken on Cain’s tragic journey to self-destruction, brought off the ancient Bible page and up close in visceral detail. Henry McGrath (Abel) and Charles Sandford (Cain) truly put the “physical” into physical theatre. The pair trust in, navigate, and cover each other’s bodies with a level of intimacy and vulnerability that is both affective and memorable.

The near-total absence of spoken language, together with the hazy, hallowed church venue of ZOO Sanctuary, enhances the Biblical setting. Everything is conveyed in delicate expressions, explosive gestures, raw gasps and sighs, the only discernible word being a final, haunting scream of “CAIN!” The choreography is a kind of primeval parkour, with the dancers leaping and maneuvering dizzyingly around a minimalist set, conveying an effortless freedom of movement whilst maintaining great technical precision.

Unless you pay a visit to the Animikii Theatre website beforehand, the first third of the piece holds an interesting ambiguity as to which performer is playing which brother — I initially thought that McGrath was playing Cain and Sandford Abel, rather than vice versa. During a spontaneous pilgrimage to a higher plain (both physical and emotional) Abel appears less inclined to take a literal leap of faith than his brother, instead more concerned with maintaining his footing on solid ground. Whether a conscious reference or not, this moment was beautifully reminiscent of Plato and Aristotle’s relationship as depicted in Raphael’s fresco, The School of Athens (1509-1511), with one drawn to the realm of the intangible, and the other to the empirical elements.

Gorgeous choreography aside, on a purely plot-based level, I couldn’t help but be bemused by the fact that for a retelling of Abel and Cain, there’s no obvious reference to their original rivalry around making offerings to God from their respective flock of sheep and field of crops. We neither witness Cain being struck with the infamous mark that consigns him to permanent exile, nor any retribution whatsoever from on high. All of Cain’s punishment seems to be continuously born of the internal, to then be re-internalised in a hellish cycle.

Even if these omissions were made for the sake of psychological realism, it’s difficult to reconcile them with the sequences explicitly devoted to numinous experiences, a half-memory, half-dream of Eden, and an extensive sequence of what I can only presume is demonic possession. Which is not to say that these scenes aren’t exhilarating, only that they muddy the story’s metaphysical waters. Nonetheless, Origins provides much food for thought (although perhaps not of the apple variety) and is well worth a watch, if only to be wowed by the passionate and vigorous energy channeled into each movement.