Monday, January 23, 2012

L’immediat at the Barbican

It begins with a crash. A spotlight smashes down from above, narrowly missing a performer. Created by Camille Boitel, L’immediat presents a world where things tumble and buckle and crumble with regularity; where nothing is fixed, nothing safe.

The opening skit is recognisably domestic. A woman arrives home from work. As she starts to unpack, first the table, then the bed, and then the entire room start to fall apart around her. Chunks of wall start to collapse. The table concertinas into a pile of wooden slats: even her trousers are disobedient, ending up around her ankles. It’s farcical and ingeniously choreographed, yet also melancholic, shoulder-shrugging, resigned to chaos and upset.

Then the whole stage starts to unpick itself, coming undone like a game of Mousetrap in reverse. Towers of cardboard boxes fall to earth, the lighting rig plummets, the stage becomes a sea of things: clutter, mess to be swept away. It’s astonishing to watch, heart-in-mouth stuff, at times seemingly perilous, as the Barbican stage is slowly stripped bare. In such moments the piece achieves a glorious union between the choreographically audacious and the thematically potent: nothing is solid, nothing is steady; if you lean on something it will only collapse under your weight.

It’s a hard balance to sustain and the production doesn’t manage it, though nor does it seem to try to. Subsequent sequences involve limbs which seem to rebel against their owners and even the stage seems to sway like a ship at sea, a pinball world on permanent tilt. Eerie dissonant sounds spill from some corner of the stage, cracked and fractured, a needle stuck in its groove. The performers, rendered bear-like and genderless under heavy fur coats hop in and out of hungry wardrobes; they writhe and wriggle on their bellies, they bend in odd, improbable ways.

These later scenes have a faintly post-apocalyptic whiff: after the fall, comes the levelling. The performers scrabble around the stage, stuck, repeating the same sets of movements. Sometimes they are ambushed by furniture; one woman seems in danger of floating away entirely and needs to be physically held down, grounded.

There’s wit and brilliance in much of this, particularly in the pervading sense of chaos and decay that, by necessity, must require a huge degree of precision and care to pull off. But the production seems to sail past a number of possible end points, galloping onwards but never quite replicating the gleeful, gasp-inducing effectiveness of that first scene of collapse. Running gags are overused with a sense of diminishing returns (there’s only so many times a startled man leaping out of a wardrobe can raise a smile) and though Boitel skilfully knits the philosophic with the farcical, there’s a – perhaps apt – sense of burnout before the piece is through.

Part of the London International Mime Festival. Reviewed for Exeunt.

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