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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Tess: Ockham’s Razor


Review: Tess: Ockham's Razor, adapted and directed by Charlotte Mooney and Alex Harvey. Viewed at the Oxford Playhouse on 26 March 2024. On tour throughout the UK until at least June.

[Disclosure: Our reviewer received free tickets, free drinks and a free programme for the purposes of this review.]

Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

Ockham’s Razor is a contemporary circus company that tells stories through physical theatre.  Ockham’s Razor has adapted Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, into a very special physical theatre production.


First published in 1891, the story follows Tess, played beautifully by Lila Naruse, a young woman from a poor rural family in England.  Tess is raped by a distant wealthy relative and the plot chronicles the devastating consequences.  Exploring themes of male privilege, poverty, religion and the double moral standards faced by women – many of the issues remain relevant today.


Deciding to do Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a full 140 minute production is a brave and risky choice - but it has paid off.  The piece is absolutely beautiful – extremely creative, poignant and powerful - with the physicality of the circus elements enhancing rather than detracting from the storytelling. Despite the ultimate sadness of the story, the production is full of humour and excitement – with lots of physical and visual jokes that were very much appreciated by the audience.


Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

There are some truly extraordinary moments – for example – when Tess travels to her distant cousin’s estate – the journey is elegantly recreated with a combination of acrobatics, clever use of props and exquisite contemporary choreography. 


Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

Another special moment is the male solo, danced by acrobat Nat Whittingham, as the character Angel – when he reacts to Tess’ confession.  Whittingham’s incredible physicality vividly recreates his crushing devastation – no matter how hypocritical we find his reaction, his intense performance forces us to empathise.


Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

The performance closes with the most breath taking contemporary dance solo I’ve seen for a very long time.  Naruse, as Tess, performs vertical choreography using a rope hanging from the ceiling as her stage.  Naruse flows up and down the rope like water – smooth, elegant and heart rending. 


Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

Despite the difficult subject matter, and the risky interpretation – the theatre was completely packed – a full house – something I haven’t seen since before 2020.  Not only that but the audience was as diverse as I’ve ever seen it – everybody from young teens of all gender presentations to the elderly – all who rose as one to give a loud standing ovation and at least three curtain calls – rare from the tough Oxford crowd.

Ockham's Razor - production of Tess

The audience reception to Ockham’s Razor’s Tess is proof that there is a real (and profitable) appetite for risky, beautiful, and challenging physical story telling.  Go and see this production if you can.


If you enjoyed this review, you might enjoy my other reviews about physical theatre productions or my other reviews about shows at the Oxford Playhouse.


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