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Mushroom Language: A Fungal Gothic | The Lowry, Salford

Mushroom Language: A Fungal Gothic focuses on the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, looking microscopically at different species of fungi and their role in the natural world. It is a thought-provoking, visceral feast, comparing roots with connectivity and the processes of decomposition with death and rebirth.

Speaking this ‘mushroom language’ are our two characters (or creatures, or embodiments of fungi), played by Ali Matthews and Tom Halls, moving between storytelling, discussion and song. The show is an exploration of life through an episodic style, as the figures recount dreams or visions in which they become mushrooms, lichen, and decay, while also interacting with each other. In embracing their ‘mushroom language,’ the characters learn more about themselves, each other, and how they fit into the natural world.

 Devised by Ali Matthews and Tom Halls themselves - with Matthews as the lead artist - the piece is a visceral combination of dream and hallucination as the storytelling gives way to a physical embodiment of the growth and decay they discuss. There is an interesting difference between the dreams – in which the actors become natural element they describe through their dialogue and inventive use of props – and the interaction between the two human-fungi figures. The pair discuss life, death and interdependence, allowing mushroom language to flow into the gaps that human understanding and words fail to fill.

Rūta Irbīte’s design is clever and effective. The props are simple, much like the set design; the glimmer of the tarpaulin as it reflects the oily blues and pinks of the lighting creates a living, breathing, marsh-like eco-system. While this works well in the confined space of the theatre, it is hard not to notice the limitations of the theatrical medium as a whole. It is a play focused on life, nature, and growth. Despite its creative success, the subject matter has the potential to achieve greater aesthetic goals. For example, the poetic dialogue would suit a fable-like animated film, a medium that would allow for greater artistic experimentation and a more visually beautiful representation of the processes and creatures the play describes.

In some moments, the play sways into comedy. These parts are truly endearing, and it would have been nice to potentially lean into this exaggeration and humour further. The use of song was also especially successful; together, Matthews and Halls’ voices sound simultaneously haunting and sweet. The symbiosis of voice through music was an interesting way to discuss connectivity and life, and it would have been lovely to hear more of this musicality. Overall, it is engaging, funny, and both interesting and interested: it is interested in life, death, and love, and interesting in its structure and content. Mushroom Language: A Fungal Gothic is a text of our time, with layers of euphoria and existentiality. The vessel for the language may feel somewhat incomplete, but the play still begs to be heard. 

Mushroom Language: A Fungal Gothic has now finished its run at The Lowry, but you can follow Ali Matthews’ work here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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