Les Acrostiches/The Singularity
Various venues, London
January, 1998

France's Les Acrostiches (seen last week at the Purcell Room as part of the London International Mime Festival) are a trio of jugglers and acrobats with a nice line in accidentally-on-purpose cocking things up for themselves. Thus, an aerial balancing sequence comes to a close before Jacques can perform his pièce de résistance balancing on his hands on the pedals of an upturned unicycle and he spends the rest of the show trying to return to this stunt; the episode in which the three build several varieties of human pyramids includes a number of landings on each other's sensitive areas; and so forth. It is now virtually a convention that such acts are enlivened by the pretence that everything goes wrong except the actual core business. Nevertheless, Les Acrostiches are polished exponents of their art, also keeping up a stream of patter in a clearly unfamiliar language... which, as they would no doubt remark, "largely amplifies the difficoolty."

The Singularity (Albany Theatre, SE8, until January 31) is another kettle of fish altogether. At one point or another, this collection of bizarrerie rips off everyone and everything from Samuel Beckett to David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes" video the show begins with performer Paka suspended in mid-air, as an apparently stranded astronaut, delicately hand-rolling a cigarette and then trying to lick it through his oxygen mask. Subsequent segments involve an invasion of the stage by animated suitcases containing everything from a catering-size toaster to a lawn; an attack by a brace of truly fearsome fire-breathing metal monsters, and a bit of slack-rope walking accompanied by some unnecessarily meaningless and purple verbiage.

In fact, the text is the show's weakest link. When Paka is mute, or engaging in stilted badinage with the audience (as his final act of self-destruction is held up, for instance, he yells, "'Oo's nicked me dynamite?"), the action and images are allowed to speak for themselves; the words seldom live up to them. Thus, the sight of Paka in heated debate (no pun intended) with a column of flame is highly resonant, but the actual content of their debate sounds like nothing so much as one of the more impenetrable episode of Patrick McGoohan's TV series The Prisoner.

At 100 minutes (half an hour longer than intended), The Singularity also begins to wear. However, as a kind of post-apocalyptic Gesamtkunstwerk (I have not yet mentioned the video projections, the Wheel of Time, the remarkable automatic egg-fryer or the impressive small-space pyrotechnics), it makes more than enough of an impact. You will almost certainly not see its like again at such close quarters.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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