The opportunity to see free, new, experimental performance from Pacitti Company, the creative force behind the whole SPILL festival with a new, intimate work exploring myth, money and magic couldn't fail to excite us. However, the experience is somewhat different.
We take our seats in a (magic) circle, the performance space delineated by a wealthy pile of copper coins, standing in for a forest floor. A man - the fool - sits blindfolded, apparently meditating ahead of some ritual sacrifice whilst a slightly scary woman with just a hint of the circus ringmaster mixed with lusty peasant sets the scene, arranges props.
But the performance fails to entrance, despite attempts to cast a spell with incense, fairy dust and dry ice. Rob Pacitti narrates rewritten fairytales with a modern twist, withdrawn from the action, but at times overpowered by the eerie soundtrack. The woman - Sheila Ghelani - passes round the collection box for coins, displays her breasts for the audience, then parades with pigs trotters. The fool's blindfold is removed and he's compelled to dance on the copper coins to the Cure's name-checked track, building in energy as a single spotlight flashes rather irritatingly, although the light transforms the copper pile in a strikingly pretty way.
Tales from the narrator take turns with ritualised set pieces from Ghelani, shrouding, binding, blinding and manhandling the fool. In one engaging move, the narrator considers what wishes the audience might make on their coins: to have a house, to run a country, to be fucked... we wait for him to preempt us by including "to be able to leave the performance" but, no.
A Forest builds to a visually arresting end. The man, stripped of his humanity, possessed, humiliated, disoriented strips himself, dons antlers between his legs and lies foetally in the coin heap. The woman drips hot wax on his apparently lifeless form and plants tiny trees all down his torso. She buries little voodoo dolls in the money. She struggles with some large tree branches and lays them over him. Then she and Pacitti hang £50 notes on the tree. For a long time. This is the stuff of durational installation.
It's a stylised performance imbued with subverted ritual and reflections on the fallacy of happy ever after but as an hour long theatrical performance, it is challenging for the audience. Being able to wander in and out of the Forest might have been cleverly preferable.
A Forest is in The Pit at the Barbican until 9 April. Although it is ostensibly sold out, there is a returns queue in the Pit and you are likely to get a (free) ticket if you turn up early. Or you can watch Spill TV and see a much more compact version of last night's performance online. SPILL runs till 26 April.