Leo, Snails And Ketchup

St. George’s West (Venue 157)
4 stars ****
Snails And Ketchup
New Town Theatre (Venue 7)
3 stars ***

THE BORDERLANDS between dance and physical theatre become ever more blurred and ever more densely populated, full of superb shows like last week’s Fringe First winner, Pat Kinevane’s Silent, which achieves a fine combination of dense text and exquisite movement. The Berlin-Based Circle Of Eleven’s show, Leo, is an entirely wordless performance; but it, too has an intense theatricality, and a haunting sense of character and narrative, as it explores the situation of a man trapped in a room where gravity – instead of pulling him downwards – seems to pull him towards the pale blue wall on the left. In Daniel Briere’s beautiful staging, we see the real Leo on the right-hand side of the stage, moving through his sideways world; while on the left, a large screen shows him on live camera, as it were the right way up.

The effect of this disjunction is startlingly poignant, as Tobias Wegner’s Leo – in what must be one of the finest movement performances on the Fringe – achieves with terrific elegance, strength and artistry what we simply take for granted, so long as gravity anchors us to the earth; to stand firmly on our two feet, to dance, to jump, to lean against a wall. Then, his narrative evolves; using a piece of chalk, he draws a little sideways domestic world for himself, which takes on a life of its own; and eventually, he finds himself pursued, in his solitary world, by a delayed image of himself, moving close behind him like a dance partner, before he finally – miraculously – finds his own way out of confinement and back into the world.

Leo lasts just an hour, and speaks entirely through light, music, imagery and the language of the body. What it has to say, though, is both eloquent and memorable; about the playfulness, the struggles, the frequent bafflement of human beings, the effort it costs us to live, the power of imagination that lightens our journey, and those rare magical moments when feel we are not alone, or when we succeed in setting ourselves free.

CoisCeim’s Dance Theatre of Dublin’s Swimming With My Mother, at Dance Base, is an irresistible piece of movement theatre performed with terrific poise and lyricism by CoisCeim boss David Bolger, and his mother Madge. As contemporary dance goes, the show is more sweet and soothing that compelling; it is a 40-minute tribute to a deeply harmonious mother-son relationship, in which they are bound together by a strong shared feeling for the joy of movement, whether in swimming – free in the cool waters of Dublin Bay – or in dancing, something Madge loved to do when she was a young woman, and apparently loves still, in her Sixties.

It’s fascinating, though, to watch Bolger and his mother combine recorded interview material, and the occasional live spoken comment, with a lovely sequence of movement reflecting a huge range of positive emotions – love, mutual respect, support, nurturing. It’s a soft-edged show, in every way. Yet it takes a certain courage, in our world, to celebrate the positive in human relationships so unequivocally; and also to expose and reflect on the balance between David’s young body and his mother’s ageing one, in a society age where is so often dismissed as a disease, rather than a natural and sometimes beautiful part of the cycle of life.

Ramesh Meyyapan’s Snails And Ketchup, at the New Town Theatre, takes a much harsher view of family relations. Supported by the Made In Scotland fund, and by a huge range of other bodies including the 2012 Olympic lottery fund, Mayyepan’s one-hour solo show is based on an Italo Calvino story about a boy who runs away from his oppressive patriarchal family after his father forces him to eat snails until he vomits, and takes up residence in a treehouse in the woods.

Meyyapan’s approach to the story he tells is both surprisingly literal – he simply uses movement to recount the tale, as a kind of substitute for words – and often very physically imprecise; even with a prior knowledge of the story, it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what Meyyapan is doing, or which character he has just adopted, not least because the design conveys no clear sense of the oppressive domestic sphere from which he escapes. The show’s aerial choreography is powerful, though, with a fine sense of strength and freedom; and although the detail is sometimes blurred and disappointing, the outline of the show – and its passionate commitment to the freedom of the human spirit – emerges with a clarity and charm that wins a warm and delighted audience response.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29, 20, 28
pp. 274, 177, 177


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