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The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity, Battersea Arts Centre – Review

Clout Theatre
Directed by Mine Cerc
Pros: The excellent physical performances from the Lecoq-trained ensemble are extremely polished and highly skilled.

Cons: Falling in the genre of performance art, it will not be to everyone’s taste and the theme was rehashed again and again, without exploring new ideas.

Our Verdict: Great performances can’t save this repetitive, one-note performance art production.

Courtesy of Battersea Arts Centre

For 45 minutes, three dead people share an excerpt of their purgatorial existence with us. Using physical theatre, clowning, sound and moments of truly inexplicable performance, we see the dark absurdity of death. It is not just any type of death, either. These three characters all committed suicide, though we do not find this out until about ten minutes into the performance. In a parody of a support group, they sip tea and share their reasons why they decided to shuffle off this mortal coil and list the things they can’t do now that they’re dead.

For the first section of the show, we see three messy, white-faced, childlike clowns gleefully exploring the messiness of a bloody death, but they soon reveal their adult selves. Fake blood abounds, particularly at the end of the show, so this isn’t for the faint-hearted audience member. Using a non-linear structure, what we really see is a collage of moments where these characters (who are not named and no programme was provided) pass the time. Diversions include drinking tea, killing themselves, killing each other and re-enacting a burial. There are extensive, detailed movement sequences and creative use of sound, such as the clatter of teacups against their saucers.

The whole performance was mostly consistent in addressing the theme of absurdity in death and I took a rather existential view from it. No action has any lasting effect in this world. The director often uses repetition and grotesque actions that have no effect on the characters to get the point across, but I did not find any particularly deep exploration of the idea.

Despite the near-consistent addressing of the theme, I found one scene utterly jarring and unconnected to the performance and the images from it are the most pervasive in my memory. One of the women came onstage with a zebra mask, no top, high heels and a tight skirt and repeatedly solicited the male performer for coins. After several successes, the other female actor came onstage wearing a lion mask. She placed an aluminium stepladder over the man, climbed up it whilst he writhed sensually, and urinated over his head. I only hope it wasn’t a genuine act, though it looked incredibly realistic. There seemed no connection to death or suicide whatsoever. Absurdity and objectification, yes, but it made little sense to the overall context of the piece.

Visually, the performance was incredibly striking and their characterisations were made whole by the actors’ physical work. The stage design was simple, a few plastic drop cloths covered the floor and provided a translucent backdrop that they exploited fully. Forty-five minutes was just the right length for such a piece, though I would have liked to see a deeper exploration into the effect of the deaths on the adult characters rather than the nearly constant childish play-acting at death. Comparing it to other experiences of performance art this was a good example that was well-planned using highly skilled performers, but followed one note for the whole show.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 12 October 2013. Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at https://www.bac.org.uk/bac/shows_list

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