I found myself laughing quite a lot throughout the piece. However, somehow this laughter was injected with anxiety and fear that I couldn’t quite understand at that moment. Peeping Tom plays with us in a very rough almost sadistic way. Just when we think we can relax back in our seats and sigh, they pierce us again, right in the guts.
The Brussels based company of dance & theatre, Peeping Tom, presented the UK premiere of Vader (2014), at Barbican Centre as part of London International Mime Festival this past weekend. The first of their last trilogy as a company where they have dared with great courage and honesty to dive and explore the most intimate family relationships: Vader-Moeder-Kind (Father-Mother-Child).
Argentinean Gabriela Carrizo and French Franck Chartier have co-directed the company since 2000. Since then, they have made eight productions as a company with the last one, Kind, premiering next April 2019 in Luxembourg. Interestingly is that for Vader and Moeder they have decided to direct separately. Hence Vader is directed by Chartier and Moeder by Carrizo; having the other as support, outside eye and dramaturgical adviser.
Like in most of Peeping Tom productions, the set is crucial and a starting point of the creation. It establishes an atmosphere, almost a smell in a surreal nightmare where we all exist together. In Vader, the actions take place in a nursing home, which is as well a concert stage. Ten over-sixty ‘extras’ –who are chosen from the local city where the company performs–, play the role of the elderly. Leo, the character of the grandfather is played by the marvellous and charming Leo De Beul: the oldest company member who will turn eighty-one this week and whom I owe the title of this review, for melting my heart when singing those words.
The physicality of the performers is simply extraordinary, mind-blowing; you never thought a body could do that. And I’m not talking only about the crazy hyper flexibility or contortions, nor about their presence, which in all is remarkable (applause here for Marie Gyselbrecht’s defiant gaze as a gloomy cleaning lady). I’m talking here about their embodied capacity to transform, to freeze, and to become something else through the movement of their bodies. Like Yi-chun Liu’s furious and wild kitten. Or the outstanding scene where Maria Carolina Vieira is singing a ballad in Portuguese, to slowly end up becoming an old and humpbacked woman asking for help.
Even though Vader is not about the figure of the father in general –but about a specific story of a father and grandfather–, there is some universality within that storytelling that we can all touch and identify with. It is not only about the fear of dying, but about how we are going to get there; in what conditions, surrounded by whom. It is about the fear of our bodies ageing and our minds losing sense of reality. About the sadness that comes when we realise that those who we love and have shown us strength and desires may end up weak and full of regrets.
Chartier has the genius of taking a simple idea and push it to the extremes to make it sublime. Vader goes beyond of what we thought the ‘black box’ could offer, it’s hypnotising in every layer. I get the feeling that everyone involved in this production had no fear of attempting to try the impossible. For that I am immensely grateful and I am sure the London audiences will wait eagerly when they come back with Kind.
Reviewed on 31st of January at The Barbican Centre