Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance review: L’Enfant qui…, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott.
There’s a man swinging an axe around his head and, at the company’s insistence, I’m sitting on the front row.
As he thwacks it into a tree stump, I’m thankful that it’s not my head.
“It’s not a narrative show,” someone else explains at the start. But thankfully it’s also not a show that’s interested in physically harming today’s audience. Despite initial impressions, it’s far too sensitive for that.
Set in a woodland clearing, it’s an ethereal piece of character-based physical theatre, inspired by a tiny sculpture from Belgian artist Jephan de Villiers – an unusual artefact comprising a moon-like face on a stick.
As a charming child puppet wanders through fallen leaves, stealing phones from audience members’ bags, a nymph-like creature somersaults through the trees, assisted by her two aides.
The mask and the stick are reimagined throughout as visual motifs – whether it’s the long branches that form the forest, white faces that cover orange glowing lights, or wood shavings that tumble from the boy’s soon-to-be crumbling body.
It’s an emotional and elusive piece that builds to a dramatic confrontation between the boy and the woman – one that, it becomes clear (upon reading the production notes), represents the young de Villiers battling with childhood illness.
While the story is relaxed in its obliqueness, the atmosphere is exceptional and the use of circus skills more commonly associated with upbeat big top shows are turned into something far more haunting, emotionally involving and creatively rich.
Movingly performed by puppeteer Morgane Aimerie Robin and acrobats Caroline Le Roy, Adrià Cordoncillo and Michaël Pallandre, to the sound of Florence Sauveur’s melancholic cello, it’s a defiantly artistic piece that manages the rare achievement of also being pretty accessible.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what it’s about.
Its lingering mood and understated celebration of nature and childlike curiosity are what stay with you.
Institut FranÇais d’Ecosse (Venue 134) until 29 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 14 August 2015
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