BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), London SW11
Opened 19 June, 2001

"Nothing to do here and nothing to see," says narrator Monica Demuru at the beginning of Buchettino as she hurries us to our places. A good thing, then, that this was the show during which, first, my pen gave up the ghost, and shortly afterwards a contact lens made a bid for freedom. It was in any event pretty much impossible to see anything useful, let alone my notepad with one good eye. For our places are not seats, but beds; we are encouraged to take our shoes off, tuck ourselves up (folding ourselves into the available space if we're more than five feet or so tall), close our eyes and listen to the story of Thumbkin, told in complete darkness except for a single light bulb illuminating Demuru's book.

The main hall at BAC has been remade as a kind of bunkhouse, with extreme cleverness: above the false ceiling and around the dormitory area, other performers create live sound effects so that we seem to be in the midst of the story. Demuru is discreetly miked up so that her voice can be treated when she speaks the lines of the ogre and his wife. The wooden pillars supporting the area above also transmit sensations down to our level, so that we physically feel the ogre blundering around over our heads. This is not quite akin to the "live radio" impression of BAC's previous "In The Dark" productions; rather, it is a complete environment which happens to have little for the eyes to do it is not that there is nothing to see, just that all there is to see is darkness, which is not quite the same. Even the sense of smell is engaged, as the pine shavings on the floor give off an aroma to suggest that we are in the same forest in which Thumbkin and his six brothers have been abandoned by their too-poor parents.

The excesses of "director's theatre" which made Societas Rafaello Sanzio's Giulio Cesare such a thoroughly purgatorial and self-indulgent experience are here reined in, with Romeo Castellucci's design creating a complete setting in which one can interact with the story. Like many folk tales told at length (this one lasts an hour), it contains longueurs as well as moments during which one feels immediately connected to the suspense and the sinister forces lurking in the surrounding darkness. As on the Night Manager river cruise which kicked off this year's LIFT, you may even zone out now and again. But Buchettino is a much more complete and dynamic transaction, for all that one's own part in it is almost to hide under the covers.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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