Samuel Beckett Theatre
TThere are many ways we could describe the tumbling and twisting imagery of Miet Warlop’s riotous spectacle for the Belgian company Campo, but none that don’t sound like dispatches from the middle of an acid trip. On a bare stage that resembles a gallery space, a preposterously rotund invigilator sits by a white wall, observed only by a figure whose head is the size of a planet, the texture of a mop, and precisely the same shade of pink as fairground candy floss.
Some minutes and several eruptions later, the stage has become a psychedelic playground, a surreal landscape billowing with various inflatables and plumes of coloured smoke, where fascinating figures confront one another, shift their shapes and conduct merrily messy chemistry experiments. Warlop’s agenda, which is equal parts delightful and perplexing, is to stimulate almost every sense while making absolutely none.
A Belgian visual artist who gravitated towards the theatre, Warlop shares a fascination with fellow artist-directors Romeo Castellucci and Robert Wilson for hallucinatory imagery and startling transformations. Her mise en scene may initially seem more playful, where balloon animals and miniature cars suggest childlike abandon, but she makes the act of creation seem steadily more cruel. See how a man’s legs strain in a pair of black stilettos as he becomes the back end of a horse, bearing a rider on his back; or listen to the unsettling thuds of a hail of darts, lobbed indiscriminately over the wall; or observe other mop-headed creatures attacking each other with staple guns and chainsaws as paint in primary colours spews and spurts. Just because they bleed in rainbows, doesn’t make it any less violent.
That combination of fantasy and horror may suggest the logic of a dream, where symbols warp and loosen their meanings. But Warlop’s succession of images seems more consciously determined. The distended figures and vicious surrealism recall Dali and Bunuel; the canvas wall, splattered and dripping, couldn’t be more Pollock; and before anyone can say “Damien Hirst” we find ourselves in the presence of another (gentler) floating shark.
Through it all, the seven performers – including Warlop herself – are subordinated to the images they create, concealed behind fat suits and wigs, just units in a composition. That increases the suspicion that Warlop sees the theatre as another venue for an artistic exhibition, a pedestal for her singular vision. It’s the images, then, that give the performance, created in front of us, signed in paint or foam or smoke, then dissipating instantly. It is a sensual and subjective experience, giddying, irresponsible and mystifying, whose mysteries would prefer to remain unsolved.
– Peter Crawley