Nomadic Tempest: A Climatopian Spectacle
Review by Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw – Showbill.ca Editorial Director
September 21, 2017
Nomadic Tempest, billed as an experimental rock opera, is a climatopian epic about the journey of four Monarchs crusading against the oily SwallowWort Fossil Twins with the aid of Kanadra, the survivor. The piece doesn’t get better than that nonsensical description and is probably the most shamefully bad contribution to the arts produced from a Victoria-related company in recent memory.
Nomadic Tempest attempts to tell the story of the resistance against the SwallowWort Twins (campily portrayed by JD Frost and Lindsey Sherman), fossil-eating cyborgs that have nebulous goals of world domination through the exploitation of natural resources. Resisting these “zealots of global penetration” are four anthropomorphic monarch butterflies, each that speak and sing in different languages (for most of the show), and Kanandra (Zia), survivor of the Drowning Wave which has seemingly destroyed all of humanity. After an entirely incomprehensible journey, the SwallowWort Twins are overthrown through the power of song (and everyone now speaking English) and the future of the planet seems secure. The whole piece, and individual scenes themselves, are bookended by “Cine Sea-quences,” which are videos of Kanandra telling the story to a group of children.
To its credit, Nomadic Tempest has noble goals. At one point, somebody had the idea to create a new piece of theatre about climate change, oil conglomerates, and the crises of migrant peoples. Unfortunately, the decision to make a piece about those topics was the only good decision made in the entire creative process.
The worst things about Nomadic Tempest are these nauseating videos, which exemplify all the failings of this piece. Dialogue is cripplingly terrible, shown here with the very first lines:
Teal: Tell us the story again Auntie…
Qual: Yes, start with the Drowning Wave…
Nook: Kanandra please show us the first picto-grab…
Musk: We are young and still new to this Now…
Kanandra: Musk, Qual, Teal, Nook, Lilly Pad…Children of the Now. Yes this before tale must crest beyond your tides.
While stylized speech is nothing new, and can be great, Nomadic Tempest manages to only make it incomprehensible. None of the actors (adults or children) seem to have a clue what it is they’re saying. Without that, any world-building attempted with some sort of post-Flood, wave-inspired speech is destined to fall on baffled ears. Similarly, the monarch butterflies, when their languages are played, have subtitles which will almost without fail leave the audience member befuddled in any attempts to discern meaning.
It is important to note that the voices of the Monarchs are entirely canned, with their dialogue and voices piped in with the music to the show. This leaves the aerialists to flit about the stage while attempting (unsuccessfully) to emote in reaction to either languages they can’t understand or words that they can’t read. While some elements of their performances are visually striking, mostly they’re left to aimlessly flail. The SwallowWorts spend virtually all their time sitting on thrones, except when awkwardly gesticulating at the screen below them in the climax, and Kanandra listlessly paces the audience, seeming to have no real aim or motivation to do much of anything. The most interesting physical thing to happen is Kanandra’s halting, jerky descent in a boat-like pod at the beginning of the show, but any hopes of more spectacle are quickly dashed by the humdrum.
All these elements combine into an exceedingly static performance, and that represents a real missed opportunity. A piece of theatre performed on a tall ship, with aerialists suspended from the rigging with lights and projections and music sounds like it really ought to be an engaging piece to watch, but Nomadic Tempest is anything but. Despite the setting, its set is sparse–though it could be because the SwallowWorts have chewed off all the scenery during their tour. The overwhelmingly pervasive feeling is that of an over-funded, over-ambitious, amateur production sheltered from the fact it’s doing a bad job, either out of a sense that criticizing the piece means criticizing the message, or out of some sycophantic desire to heap praise on anything that seems “Artistic.”
The target audience is hard to discern. If one is already passionate about the issues, and is really into dissonant “modern” (though not well-composed modern) music with a Message, then this might be a show for you. Though, troubling elements like the Monarchs finally getting ahead only after they all switch to speaking and singing English, seem to undermine the messages of cultural pluralism and diversity espoused. Also worrisome is that, during a laundry-list of vanities made possible by the oil industry, a dig against modern medicine (while the singer mimes the action of vaccination) shows up. If you’re not part of the rather narrow demographic that can wave away those issues while believing that Art isn’t Art if it doesn’t have a Message, there is nothing for you in Nomadic Tempest.
At the end of the day, the show is a complete mess. Despite having a good message at heart, it somehow manages to preach to the choir and stumble over itself at the same time. Boring, poorly-executed, and interminably obtuse, Nomadic Tempest would best serve the community if it wrecked itself on a distant shore, never to return.