Review: Lands End ~ theatre notes

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review: Lands End

Lands End by Philippe Genty. Compagnie Philippe Genty. State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, until August 16. Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, August 20-23. Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay, August 27-September 6. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, September 10-13. Bookings: 1300136166

There is a special mystery to the art of animation. A gifted puppeteer can invest inanimate things with an emotional resonance that defies explanation: the least human object can seem to express the most profound human feelings.

I’ve wondered if this is because animation – seen in the work of anime masters such as Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazake as much as in stage puppetry – is able to abstract human gesture with a heart-breaking lucidity. This opens the world of feeling to the accuracy and freshness of poetic insight, with its ambiguous tensions between the material world and the intangible realities of imagination.

Philippe Genty is one of the acknowledged masters of European puppetry, although his work is more properly a fusion of dance and animation. His stagecraft is impeccable, and the illusions he creates range from the grotesque and comic to moments of breath-taking beauty. Lands End is no exception.

It’s a series of surreal vignettes that explore the contingencies of desire. On a stage framed by moveable black flats that change its dimensions and also hide and reveal the eight performers, Genty creates virtuosic transformations.

The show opens with some classic French clowning: a hand appears from behind a flat. A man in a suit and hat, a signature Genty figure, vanishes and returns, carrying a cardboard cutout of a man which he seats at a desk at the side of the stage. He then produces a gun, which he shoots into the flies. A huge fish falls to the stage floor. And when we look again at the desk, the cardboard cutout has transformed into a real person.

This man has a box on his desk on which is written “email”. He hurriedly writes on a piece of paper, and posts it into the box, and the letter flies out and dances off. To whom is he writing?

What follows is a dream-like narrative that explores the comedy and pathos of human miscommunication. Letters fly through space, are torn or lost, or devour their readers. A man and a woman, whose identities constantly transform, seek each other through a beautiful and grotesque landscape of desire.

Genty’s notion of the impossibility of human love, its constant mistaking of its object in the fantasies of the self, is almost Lacanian. And like Lacan, for all his virtuosity there is an indefinable quality missing in Lands End, a promise that is never quite disclosed. It impresses and delights, but it never reaches into the deeper realms of feeling.

This review appears in today's Australian.


Anonymous said...

Why does no one care about the poor apostrophes? What did they do to deserve Philippe Genty's ire?

Alison Croggon said...

Will nobody think of the punctuation?!?

As someone of good Cornish stock (Cornwall is the toe end of the UK, ending in Land's End) I feel the pain...