Ramkoers - BOT - Photo by K. Do Rosario

BOT: Ramkoers

Ramkoers - BOT - Photo by K. Do RosarioA cannonball rolls down a ramp and crashes into a length of steel scaffold that’s bisecting the stage. A piece of guttering clatters to the ground, rebounds and comes to rest. A mechanised accordion hee-haws across the floor, breathing raspily.

And then the performers appear – men, wearing a kind of uniform of grey skirts, vests, and steel-toe-capped boots, manoeuvring machinery and contraptions on to the stage, gradually assembling the performance space. There are some recognisable instruments – keyboards, xylophones, and wind instruments that have been bastardised or hybridised – but a lot of it looks like objects reclaimed from a junk yard or obsolete industrial process. Some contraptions are whimsical, Heath Robinson-style affairs; others are cruder, more rough and ready. You look at them and marvel: how do they work? What sound are they going to make? The men are focused, working with efficiency and purpose, doing the things that they know need to be done. There’s no need for them to communicate; they’re an invisibly connected organism.

And then, at intervals, songs emerge seamlessly from the activity. There’s no ‘Are we all ready?’ moment; they simply start, or we become aware that they have started. Dutch company BOT have developed a unique sound to mirror their highly original form: it’s industrial, grimy, electronic, but also sweet, delicate, folksy. These are kind of soul songs and kind of rock numbers, and in more than one the front man clambers on to the seating, straddling audience members, and eyeballs us as if to say, ‘You will hear me’. For these moments it’s more like a gig, and we clap along and cheer at the end of each song. And then they’re off again, reconfiguring, adapting and adding to their extraordinary enormous instrument, going about their work, their play, their music-making with an intent matter-of-factness. This is what they do.

The show builds masterfully, with the machinery becoming ever more elaborate and spectacular, so that you can’t help but exclaim out loud with pleasure and surprise. In one song, two performers dance in clogs loaded with fire crackers; in another, one of the performers is harnessed inside a giant wheel and rolls across the stage playing the keyboard. It becomes more recognisably a ‘performance’ as well, as the house lights gradually dim and lights are incorporated into the sound-making machinery. By this time, the stage is so full of stuff that the performers have to weave around it carefully. At the end, it feels like something almost transcendental has occurred.

What’s so pleasurable and deeply satisfying here is the way that through the constant reconfiguring of the space, of the machines in it and movement through it, the show makes accessible a feeling of limitlessness invention, resourcefulness and adaptability. It’s as if our muscle for dealing with uncertainty and embracing the unexpected is being very gently stretched – something that would not be possible if we didn’t feel that the whole thing were not actually exceptionally precisely controlled. And it’s also so very recognisably human. We recognise men at work and at play and we understand something of our need to create – for ourselves, as part of a community and for other people. We emerge grinning, giddy.