Enter The Valley Of The Dolls: The Body Review
You start by holding a baby and end up with sore tits. Especially if you’re a man.
The Barbican staff fuss around you with warnings about ‘strong magnets’ and not bringing in coats or bags, so you’re prepared for The Body to be something interactive and physical, and excitedly aware this piece won the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust award. Site specific marathon You Me BumBum Train and drag fabulist Dickie Beau are previous winners, so the bar’s set high.
Financial support from the Barbican means that The Pit, which can accommodate 180, is given luxurious performance space and just 16 seats: there’s an almost alarming sense of being the focus of the performers’ attention.
Just over an hour later, attached to the sticky electrode of a heart monitor and with a plastic baby in your lap (everybody gets one: most cradle it in the approved position, only one man stowed his under the chair), you’ll have watched a succession of staged tableaux mostly featuring still or animated dolls in every guise from charming to crude to creepy-as-Chucky and exploring various body parts and functions. Yes, including those. Mannequins piss, and not just in Brussels.
There’s a contrasted pair of human actors — co-creator Nigel Barrett: male, British, chubby, outgoing; and performer Jess Latowicki: female, pierced, American, internalised — who rarely speak but when they do it’s in the language of string-pull toys “let’s go to the park”, “I need changing” or random non-sequiturs.
If the staging, lighting and technical effects were done with less precision — impressive work by University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab and Middlesex University’s Computing, Design and Robotics — it could be boring, but there’s an enduring fascination with ‘what next’ as the toys walk unaided or have moving mouths projected on to them to give the illusion of speech. In the longest scene using the whole depth of the space, a soulful but uncredited violinist strolls through a field, almost a valley, of the dolls.
We’re at the frictive junction of art and performance and you need to park your preconceptions and maybe discount any Emperors Clothes concerns. Applause at the end was muted, but post-show reactions ranged from baffled to one mother of an eight month old deeply moved by this vision of her child’s life as no more than a collection of organs in a plastic shell.
And chaps, beware: those heart monitor things really do hurt like a bitch when ripped off a hairy chest. Recommend soaking in a hot bath.
The Body continues at The Pit, Barbican Arts Centre, several times a day until 29 November. Tickets £18, returns only. Londonist saw this piece on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 24 November 2015