Lyric Studio Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 17 March, 1997

Forkbeard Fantasy (alias the Brittonioni Brothers) have a playful love of film coursing through their veins; cut them, and they would bleed celluloid. It is natural, then, that they should have created a show for the Century of Cinema celebrations in their characteristic style which combines film, live action and special effects somewhere in the region between Ray Harryhausen and Heath Robinson. The centenary has passed, but the show like the huge caryatids which support the crumbling, sinister Empire Cinema on the stage refuses to lie down.

Tim and Chris Britton and Edmund Jobling are basically big kids with a huge toybox. The Fall Of The House Of Usherettes is a work of childish silliness mixed with an adult taste for referentiality, nodding as it does to films ranging from The Shining to Gone With The Wind and directors from Blake Edwards to Tarkovsky. As the grasping Bernard von Earlobe attempts to steal the world's only remaining liquid film archive from Roderick Lilyhair de Usherette and his three weird sisters (cue running Macbeth-related gags), an hour and a half ensues of chase sequences in which characters disappear behind a projection screen to pop up on film, intruders are imprisoned in slapstick film loops, towering monsters and improbable (re)animation sequences all come thick and fast.

Technically, the Brittons and their co-designer Penny Saunders are immensely skilled although they relish the illusion of shambles, the reality is plainly one of precise orchestration. The spirit of the show, one of daft but knowing fun, is also enormously appealing. Things fall apart, however, in the narrative aspect; it becomes progressively more difficult to maintain a coherent line through the warped, irrepressible ideas being pulled out at high speed like the flags of all nations from a magician's hat.

After a certain point one simply has to trust that all these frayed threads will be brought together by the end, and they are not; the final barrage of special effects constitutes a conclusion rather than a resolution. The final destination of the piece, and indeed the route travelled, are subordinated to the rollercoaster loops and twists of the ride. One cannot shake the niggling suspicion that it ought to be more thoroughly enchanting than it is.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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