Review – 32 Rue Vandenbranden at Barbican

Part of London International Mime Festival 2015

32 Rue Vandenbranden, Peeping Tom (Belgium) —

Credit: Herman Sorgeloos

Credit: Herman Sorgeloos

There are creatures on the mountainside – or at least moments when characters on the Barbican stage break away from their human forms and become something bestial, or alien, or otherworldly.

These are the monsters within, monsters which are provoked by the solitude and exposure of a mountaintop community. They play out their lives and their nightmares on, essentially, a film set, realistic to the nth degree (except for the fake snow). Three little bungalows with rattling windows, sitting on the top of a snowy mountain and battered by winds.

In the beginning the huge stage is lit only by the lights from inside the bungalows, spilling onto the stage. There is music, there is wild free form dancing. Apart from that, it’s all a mystery. A man carries a woman as a rucksack, another man’s trousers fall down. The simultaneous narratives of the inhabitants of these three bungalows play out together, either voyeuristically through the windows or on the open space of the stage proper.

Fragments of story, or something to latch onto, emerge infrequently, but mainly the show adheres to its stream of consciousness nightmarish style. Whether it is being deliberately impenetrable is unclear, but it does seem aware of its odd scenic creations: just when it gets really weird – Hun-Mok Jung (possibly pretending to be a woman) sticks his hands into his y-fronts and continues to dance – it draws attention to its own weirdness by having a group of skiers arrive to catch him in the act. In fact, all the performers have a moment when they take centre stage and get caught in the embarrassing throes of their own reveries.

A David Lynch nightmarish qualities come from unexpected gender reversals, a baby howling from underneath a bungalow, a woman stealing another’s identity and husband while she looks on in helpless agony through the window.

It also comes from the appropriation of ostensibly quite cheery music to grotesque situations. Continual and varied pieces of music overlap, ranging from Bellini’s Casta Diva to I Am Telling You from Dreamgirls to piercing alarm sounds. The most powerful, though, is a dance between a husband and wife that is both violent and sexual, skirting the extremes of passion, while Eurudike De Beul sings Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond plena voce (and it’s a phenomenal voce she has).

Every moment of this subconscious fantasy is as fascinating as it is unfathomable. It exudes a strange allure and revels in its silly slapstick as much as its enigmatic depths.

Barbican until 31 January.

Tim Bano

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