Review: Philippe Blanchard - There are no such things as silly things - The Place

Performance: 25 May 2016
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Friday 27 May 2016

Philippe Blanchard. Photo: Ralf Emmerich.

Lengths of paper are taped to two of the walls while a screen covers the third. Centre stage is a trolley bearing a video camera and projector while two tea chests, a gorilla suit and a red puffer jacket complete the scene.

As the audience shuffles in, performers Andy Zondag and Roger Sala Reyner hang about grinning and whispering conspiratorially, like schoolboys planning a stupid prank. It takes them a while to get going; Zondag rolls a crayon beneath one foot while Reyner fiddles with the lights. Gradually, though, they establish a rhythm in which Zondag initiates a movement and Reyner amplifies it to the point where it becomes ridiculous.

To what extent they are improvising is not clear; the piece is directed by Philippe Blanchard who likes to impose some kind of order over potential mayhem, but there seems to be plenty of room for the exploration of deranged ideas. Silly walks, contortions and extreme stomach rolling are followed by the high pitched squealing of naked bums being dragged across the floor. Next comes a frenzied sexual assault of walls, doors and radiators which climaxes in the couple humping one another as they jump up and down with gleeful grunting.

It’s all deliriously daft and highly enjoyable, but things are about to get darker. Sniffing one another’s shoes the pair get high, only to experience terrible fits, convulsions and vomiting. Gradually, though, their suffering morphs into an ecstatic orgy of groaning and sighing soon to be followed by a display of voguing with trousers pulled down to half mast.

To improvise successfully, performers need to be totally committed to whatever lunacy emerges. I know from experience how difficult it is to remain present and be relaxed enough to take the audience with you; if you are nervous or distracted, they will sense it immediately. These two are good, though, and are clearly enjoying themselves. I could happily watch their antics for hours, but things are about to shift dramatically. In effect, the evening is in two parts – the live and the mediated.

Zondag picks up the camera and points it at Reyner who obligingly screeches like a banshee every time he is in frame. The lights dim and, from now on, the couple are performing for the camera rather than the audience, while we pay more attention to the screened images than the people generating them.

They have become actors playing various roles; except it’s more complicated than that. What strikes me is the exotic beauty of the projected images when compared with the tacky, on-stage reality that gives rise to them.

Black crayon smeared inexpertly over eyebrows, chin and upper lip turns Reyner from the buffoon we’ve been watching ’til now into an evil monster, while hoodies and puffer jackets transform the pair into stoic refugees anticipating a better future. This contrast between the real and the virtual is the point of course, along with the fact that we take such pleasure in witnessing their transformation from regular guys into heroes and villains.

Next we are invited to peer up nostrils, down throats and into eyeballs as the lens zooms in to explore intimate corners. Zondag begins moving the projector around until it points towards a sheet of paper tacked to the ceiling above our heads. Reyner’s face appears looking down at us from on high, like an all-seeing deity. It provokes the unseemly thought that God might just be a Frenchman playing with a video camera on a stage somewhere in London.

Part of Spring 16 at The Place

Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping recently when she was invited to serve on the dance panel of the Olivier Awards. A keen dancer herself, she brings a fresh perspective to the role of commentator.

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