Chaliwate Company/Focus Company: Backup

The North Pole. 4am. A van is travelling across the tundra. We see this enacted in an exquisite sequence of object manipulation. A human body forms the snowy landscape and the little van pops up on the undersole of a foot and travels along the body. Tiny lights and miniature houses complete the scene.

Switch. The point of view is now close-up on the occupants of the van, three reporters. The van is a 2-D door held up as the three bounce along. One is smoking a cigarette out of the window of the van, the window going up and down. It is touches like these that really make the performance – excellent, finely detailed physical theatre work from the three co-creators, Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, and Sandrine Heyraud.

Switch. They’re now out of the van, on the tundra. (They’ve moved in front of the puppetry table, in very close proximity to the audience.) A TV crew, we presume from the cameras and boom mics being wildly swung around and repositioned. They are clambering over each other, sitting on each other’s shoulders as the ice makes menacing cracking noises…

Switch. Point of view is now what the camera sees… relayed onscreen in one of the cleverest integrations of live and screen work I’ve seen for a while.

Switch: The camera is nestled beneath the paws of an enormous polar bear. Cue a very beautiful puppetry section, the three performers now manipulators, and proving that they are equally skilled in this department. And then – it ends.

Boom – 30 minutes of gorgeous physical and visual theatre, then gone. There’s something of a delight in short-form shows for Ed Fringe audiences – allowing people to pack in even more in a day. And it’s good, as an audience member, to leave feeling you want more. In a way it works narratively –  think of it as a short story, perhaps. But I leave feeling unsatisfied with the brevity of the piece – this offset a little by the company’s announcement at the end that they are working on extending the piece. Well thank goodness for that!

I do want to see what the company make of the challenge to create a full-length show, and hope that the work does eventually come back to the UK in its finished form. In the meantime – bravo! Quality physical and visual performance, and practically word-free, delivering narrative through image and physical action.

It is a delight to see such skilled puppetry, object manipulation, and comic physical performance wrapped up tightly into such a neat bundle. Backup is a sweet little tidbit that whets our appetite for more.



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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.