Thursday, 30 January 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Optraken - The Peacock Theatre, London

As part of the highly acclaimed annual London International Mime Festival, the acrobatic collective Galactik Ensemble (all graduates of France’s famous national circus school at Rosny sous Bois) have brought their unique show ‘Optraken’ to London’s Peacock Theatre, following an extensive sell-out European tour.

This was by no means an ordinary acrobatic experience. Galactik themselves say “forget elegant tumbling and spangly tights - this is a battle in which every movement matters for survival!” And with the premise of 5 performers who are quite literally “pitting themselves against a hostile environment” (ie: the set!) the genre did indeed take on a very different meaning for its audience, who are taken on a journey that is both unexpected and precarious, to say the least.

We were immediately drawn in as the slow build up of lighting, eerie music and three imposing screens moving very slowly towards us giving a sci-fi feel to the proceedings. As the screens started to move in different directions, five suited personnel were revealed in various permutations - depending on the mood of the screens that by now had taken on a life of their own - ultimately darting around to reveal a dead-pan police station-style line-up; both funny and sinister in equal measure.

What took place over the next 50 minutes was our five characters / acrobats quite literally dodging every aspect of their performance space, as it shockingly (and hilariously) turned against them in every conceivable way possible. Starting with one performer shaking dozens of live fire crackers out of his hair... with a distinct whiff of sulphur in the air, all five skimmed across the floor. One had his clothes ripped off whilst hanging off a screen to avoid the onslaught of deluge. Missiles started falling from the sky - plastic bags of nasty dusty plaster-type substance with the odd bouquet of flowers or a feather, to ‘placate’ the unsuspecting victims - prior to an ‘Amsterdam New Year - style’ multiple fire-cracker explosion. This culminated in a performer being quite literally ‘swept’ into the gobsmacked audience by one of the ominous dalek-esque screens.

We were reminded of a more familiar environment as motifs of everyday life - a framed picture, desk, chair and potted palm tree - descended from the sky to create an office environment, perhaps….which of course completely eluded everyone who tried to inhabit it.

And the carnage hadn’t even begun yet…

‘Optraken’ is a spectacular, tense, unexpected and very funny audience experience for anyone lucky enough to see this show. The five acrobatic performers were brilliantly engaging with precision movement, control and timing. We empathised with their predicaments and marvelled at their ability to combat the increasing danger thrown at their very existence. As they attempted to dodge these bullets (this tangible representation of our increasingly fractured world was not lost on us ) they ingeniously and daringly made both the space and the experience of both performers and audience, one of compelling originality.

This is an exceptional example of the extraordinary power of non-spoken communication to create experiences and meaning that (as this performance testified) will have justifiably infinite appeal.

Reviewer - Georgina elliott
on - 29/1/20

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