Review: Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan in In-i at National Theatre

Performance: in rep to 20 Oct 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 19 September 2008

Performance: 18 Sept

I feared that this fusion of artistic excellence, a collision of two enormous world-class performers in different art forms, might not produce a whole that equalled the anticipated sum of its two parts. I hoped that we would find a beguiling work that merged their highly individual expertise and skill into a thing of elegance and beauty, a mix of passions articulated in a real marriage of dance and theatre.

In truth we got a bit of both these hopes and fears. There were delightful passages of sublime, striking imagery, including a strong opening sequence, with both performers emerging into dim light, leaning casually against either side of a substantial floor-to-ceiling panel before consecutively embarking into lyrical dance solos. This led to a voiceover from Binoche describing her impetuous, lightning obsession – aged 14 – for a man she saw in a cinema and her subsequent romantic pursuit of him. With an opening that promised so much, I was quickly making mental notes of all the people I should pass this onto as a “must-see”, but it never quite lived up to this early promise. The swish beginning morphed into a comedy sequence about two lovers spending the night together, starting with a funny stand-up parody of sharing a bed for the first time but building into serious over-kill with a long and trite routine about the two genders’ toilet habits.

Both Khan and Binoche had lengthy dramatic monologues: his, a rather harrowing tale of first love crossing a powerful sectarian divide and the subsequent brutal interrogation by his Muslim cleric; hers, delivered whilst hanging imperceptibly from a wall in an overcoat, being a similarly disturbing story of an abusive, jealous partner.

These two great artists were certainly at their best when performing in their own medium. When Khan danced we were watching a body turn to liquid gold and Binoche captivates with her adroit, expressive power as an actress. Both have also clearly worked hard to adopt the skills of the other and Khan’s monologue – albeit fairly one-paced – strongly conveyed the fear of a young boy being forced to trade romantic love for religious conviction at the point of a knife. Although limited in scope, perhaps because she seemed to be suffering from a headcold, Binoche moves with grace and the choreography captured her strengths without unduly highlighting weakness.

‘in-i’ is – by its very nature – a highly self-indulgent work from two leading artists of our times; it journeys from a clear narrative beginning to an entirely abstract end (in a contemporary dance duet for the pair) and it seems to have lost 20 minutes in its final preparations (the previews talked of a work of 80 minutes and it eventuated at almost exactly an hour). Although the work has some passages that drift, overall it’s an hour that passes quickly and with just enough entertainment and thought to justify its concept in delivery.

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