Review: Jasmin Vardimon Company - Park - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 10 & 11 November 2014
Reviewed by Rachel Nouchi - Thursday 13 November 2014

Jasmin Vardimon Company 'Park'
Photo: Ben Harries

Performance reviewed: 11 November

A mermaid statue comes to life, a misogynist rapper throws himself onto metal railings, lovers squeal and seduce, buskers coo, dogs bark, a tourist clicks a camera, a large bottomed bag lady becomes the object of hilarity in the crudely comic yet surreal environment that is Park, Jasmin Vardimon’s resurrected decade-old creation of an urban hellhole. This piece may be described by its creators as a place of refuge, but from where I am sitting it’s a terrifying pit of despair and shattered dreams – not somewhere I’d like to find myself wandering past on a dark night.

First performed in 2004, Park takes eight familiar urban characters – including a homeless man in sleeping bag, rapping bad-boy, bag lady, buskers, a pernicious property developer and tourist as voyeur– slams them together in an urban scrubland that was once a pleasure garden. As a social experiment, a brilliant metaphor for city living, the characters are forced by proximity to rub up against each other-quite literally- in a series of curious relationships that are dramatically built upon, both through movement and speech, only to be smashed in equal measure. In this sense, it’s exhausting as it is exhilarating to watch.

Vardimon is well known for dealing with socio-political themes in her work and Park is no exception. Her motivation behind the setting was to create a platform to probe the issues of feminism, regeneration and capitalist greed, to name but a few. Such themes are brandished loud and clear to the audience from the casts’ frantic swaying in time to the nationalistic flag waving, to scenes of a disturbing sexual nature.

In one instance, mid-way through the first half of the 95 minute action, an agitated aggressor, a male-two timing beast, brilliantly portrayed by Uros Petronijevic, dominates and instills fear through sheer physical brutishness and intimidation but is reduced by his female victim to a dog, where he is whipped into submission with a rope, in a technically masterful scene of sadomasochism, involving his dominatrix literally tying him up and releasing him on a lead to be yanked and hurled across the stage.

Indeed, Vardimon’s Park is masterclass in actor-led animal studies, from the bird-like warbling of a female busker to a flipping fishy mermaid slinking her way across the stage in the homeless man’s sleeping bag, brilliantly played by Silke Muys.

In this Brechtian boiling pot of humanity with comedy and despair doled out in equal measure, the voice, screaming out its political slogans and begging not for “change” but for “love” reveals Vardimon’s ability to transform from high and mighty political rhetoric to the baser levels of humanity in one sweeping phrase of body and soul – voice and movement. It’s no easy feat bringing both into play.

Clever staging is set up to mirror such contradicting forces – from the relics of classicism in the form of a romantic mermaid statue – who comes to life to seduce – and the fountain used for a half naked performer to comically splash in the far corner of the stage – metal railings double up as a prop for the dancers to bounce off, displaying phenomenal Parkour-like skills, literally hurling themselves onto the barriers and running up the railings as if fending off police at a rally-but the fence also act as prison like boundary for the action. Everything onstage has a function-a lamppost is a pole to shimmy up by a frightened homeless man, (adeptly played by David Lloyd), an orange cone acts as a loudspeaker for political rhetoric and the litter box double up as beating drums in time with the dancers steps.

Vardimon’s eight-strong troupe are awesomely skilled in their range and versatile nature of performance- physically terrifying- these performers have been actor trained and fitness trained with intensity equal to any army bootcamp ready for combat. Here, we witness circus skills, ball spinning, a breathtakingly beautiful sequence involving a duet with the couple ice skating with plastic bags on their feet, (Silke Muys and Esteban Fourmi) tap-dancing, burlesque cabaret, hip-hop, b-boying, rapping and flying low set in Olympian-like physical choreography offset by an oddball score from Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love to the Beatles’ “nothing’s going to change my world”.

In the second half of the evening, Vardimon’s pacing becomes more unified and less hotchpotch as she opens her carpetbag of circus tricks and reveals tighter sequences leading to a finale that displays her ability to transform aggression into simmering sexuality in a one movement heartbeat. When a trio of female dancers flap their arms like angel wings in a cross between the corps de ballet in Swan Lake and burlesque cabaret, the enduring theme remains; a nod to classicalism but firmly entrenched in feminist armor- the sequence screams: “look at me, I’m pretty and feminine with flowing hair and graceful arms, but touch me and I’ll bite.”

Jasmin Vardimon Company are currently touring Park

Rachel Nouchi is a freelance journalist in the second year of an MA Movement Direction: Teaching at Central School of Speech and Drama

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