Digital audio technology is a wonderful thing. Its "sampling" facilities allow sounds to be played back in perfect synchronisation with actions at the touch of a button, eliminating all that painstaking messing about with tape machines. This is the inspiration behind Gary Stevens' Sampler at the ICA, in which five performers discover that their movements across the stage "trigger" either plausible sounds (creaking floorboards, the splash of shallow water) or surreal noises (a ringing telephone at each step, or mass applause).
Stevens, however, has stretched an entertaining idea out to unconscionable thinness over a 100-minute show. Much of the physical work is just sloppy: his performers, each clad entirely in a different rainbow colour, either do not possess mime skills or do not care about using them to create a world that goes beyond the merely aural.
Sampler is perhaps a homage of sorts to Jacques Tati, but the French master was not foolish enough to believe that process could stand alone without the need to pay attention to content. A notion which would have constituted a fine rehearsal game or a sporadic running gag in a work of substance here becomes a symphony written on one note.
A different and more hauntng use of digital samples is made by Québecois company Les Deux Mondes in their sombre, affecting production, The Tale Of Teeka at the Riverside Studios, which attempts to bridge the gap between children's and adult theatre.
The superficial story of a boy and his goose is gradually thrown into shadow by growing intimations that the boy is constantly humiliated and psychologically abused by his parents, and that such damage is all too easily passed on. Yet this realisation creeps up through a staging which, Lepage-like, uses a variety of dramatic techniques: several different kinds of puppetry, sound effects achieved by percussively playing the set, and little cabins which open like a Tardis into vast onstage altarpieces.
The closing musical passage consists of the most agonised, heart-rending sounds I have ever heard wrenched from a synthesizer. It transpires that here, as throughout the score, composer Michel Robidoux is not creating artificial sounds but is using his keyboard to play over several octaves the sampled songs of geese. This is technology with a point, contributing to a production which is at once delightful and unsettling.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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