Germinal sets out to build up a world in a black-box space in this razor-sharp production
Germinal: It is only in the frenetic final 20 minutes that the production’s intelligence fully reveals itself. Photograph: Alain Rico
Project Arts Centre
The audience in Germinal begins the show in a place of privilege, drenched in harsh white light and peering into the darkness of a world about to take shape. There is the low thrum of dull light and splashes of uncertain lumination above a misty floor, before a sparse set slowly takes shape and four figures come into being.
It’s a portentous and effective opener, but it quickly blinks into a more contemporary theatrical aesthetic. Instead of crawling out of a primordial soup, like tetrapods on holiday in Kerry, the four characters are fiddling with lighting controls, and they quickly discover an ability to make their thoughts appear on panels behind the stage. As their thought processes evolve, so does their language, and before long they are dealing with group dynamics, the laws of thermodynamics, giving life to what little is around them, and even introducing the odd existential struggle.
In most hands this would be a solemn, pompous affair. Instead, Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort (who devised the show) and Arnaud Boulogne and Ondine Cloez place it within the framework of an intricate, hilarious word game.
Their world is split into things that go “poc poc” (in a French accent) and things that don’t. Linguistic Venn diagrams are scrawled across the stage, as the black-box universe becomes more complex. Religion is considered and rejected, though at one point a cast member seems to secretly give it a go by appearing to pray to the deified audience.
What begins wordlessly flickers into French, diverts into English, flirts with German and Swedish, and then rattles along bilingually. (It’s also typically sharp of this production that one crucial step in its evolution comes about when the three men are resting, and the single female character launches into sudden, violent action.)
The intent of Germinal is rarely clear and never predictable; it starts slowly and perplexingly, and it is only in the frenetic final 20 minutes that its motivations snap into focus and the production’s intelligence fully reveals itself. It’s perceptive, inventive and certainly challenging: but then again, whoever said evolution was easy? Ends Saturday