Genre: Physical Theatre
Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre Bethwin Road SE5 0XT
The term fantasist is used by the physical theatre ensemble Theatre Temoin/ Compagnie Traversiere in their latest collaborative production at the Blue Elephant Theatre to embrace several states of mind: a person with a mental illness, a visual artist gripped by a frenetic need to work and a young woman longing to be romantically swept off her feet by a handsome man. These experiences weave what seem to me to be the dominant themes of show of madness, creativity, addiction and desire into the fabric of a simple story of Louise, “alone in her room… desperate to fall to sleep” and her “surprise visitor” who interrupts her and “takes her on a strange journey through excitement, creativity, horror and destruction”.
Yes, the narrative is very simple but astonishingly powerful. Each part is choreographed in relation to exploring what is real and what is fanciful. Perspectives are distorted from the outset as the audience first sees Louise (Julia Yevnine) in bed, standing upright, moving and tossing about as an insomniac, against a backdrop of a bed sheet and a gravity-defying pillow. The cartoon-like animated real furniture on stage – the opening and closing of wardrobe doors, chest of drawers and various box lids – give the impression of an energetic farce. Laughter breaks out many times in the first ten minutes of the show.
Then reality breaks into the scene through two characters: the first a visiting NHS nurse (played by Cat Gerrard) checking to see if Louise is continuing to take her medication and a visiting friend (played by Julia Correa) who is paying her weekly spot check on Louise’s well-being. Both characters’ interactions with Louise change our perception of her from being just an imaginative sort of person to a ‘troubled’ patient and dependent friend.
It is at this poignant moment that the drama takes another spectacular turn. A beautiful blue coat, briefly introduced earlier in the show as something Louise likes to play with, now takes on a life of its own through the introduction of ‘him’, a swarthy, handsome devil whose aim it is to take complete control of the young woman: mind, body and soul.
The puppetry in the The Fantasist seems to be built in relation to him – either in contrast to or as an extension of his personality and his effect on Louise. We see everything from cute baby-like puppets to witch-like hags. The adroitness of the three puppeteer/ actors literally grows before us on stage. Julie Yevnine’s Louise is stunning to view – from her use of ‘isolation’ in body moves show her disintegrating self and her delicate delivery of poignant lines: she sometimes seems as innocent as Alice in Wonderland and at other times as raging and cruel as a parent abusing her child, in her case, the artefacts of her own creation, her models and paintings. Julia Correa and Cat Gerrard present an array of absurd and menacing puppets: a walking easel with preying mantis-like legs, the decomposing heads of previous women who loved the man in the blue coat. The allusion to bluebeard’s wives is comically captured in their rap song.
Director Ailin Conant’s must be applauded for her imaginative use of the stage space in representing esoteric states of mind as stage emblems. In effect, she allows the audience to go on Louise’s highly personal journey by travelling with her into her own subjective fantasy, each step removing her ability to return to a ‘more real’ and objective view of reality. Sitting in the audience, I came to see what it means when we say she or he ‘can’t help themselves’. The whole experience evinced in me a surprising degree of compassionate.
In fact, there are so many surprises in The Fantasist. I have touched on a few in my review. If you ever needed proof that puppet shows are a genre that deserve to be taken seriously by adult audiences, then come and view this production. But most of all, come and view it because it is just a fantastic show.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 1 March 2012