32 rue Vandenbranden – Peeping Tom: The Barbican, London, 29 January 2015

Snowly does it

There are so many jokes you could make about poles here that I'm not even going to bother. Peeping Toms 32 rue Vandenbranden. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

There are so many jokes I could make about poles here that I’m not even going to try. Peeping Tom’s 32 rue Vandenbranden. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

The closing section of Peeping Tom’s 32 rue Vandenbranden was effectively a series of superb solos and duets. The way Maria Carolina Viera, for example, yanked her body around herself was extraordinary, the expression of dire denigration at being betrayed by her lover was acute. The duet that followed it, where Jos Baker held Viera by her mouth and threw her around like a puppet was a powerful and deeply unsettling portrayal of emotional dominance.

However, it all brought home the frustrations of the previous hour, demonstrating how the performers’ considerable talents had been underused. 32 rue Vandenbranden is slow, very slow, and, until the end, never quite caught the right balance between comedy and tragedy. Things like the woman singing on a roof with dead foxes wrapped around her neck added nothing to a piece that already had enough atmosphere and displacement without the need for such self-conscious weirdness.

It was a shame because there were some great individual moments. Seoljin Kim put us right in the middle of a storm with his uncontrollable umbrella antics and he later performed a wonderfully absurd solo jammed packed with rubbery legs and gurning body parts. Also the way he and Marie Gyselbrecht were hanging on to each other for dear life as the wind tried to whisk them away was mind-bogglingly anti-gravitational.

These moments occurred rarely though; the piece mostly involved a lot of watching people going about their daily business through windows (true to the Company’s name, I guess) and waiting for them to do something interesting. There was a vague narrative going on regarding the devastating consequences of an extra-marital affair but it was pieced together in fragments, mirroring the dysfunctional nature of the street’s six inhabitants but creating no psychological depth to the characters.

The snow-bound set was evocative in its’ rickety simplicity and Juan Carlos Tolosa and Glenn Vervliet’s sound designs were suitably eerie and isolationist, although some of the electronic beeping was pretty annoying.

However, one great thing about 32 rue Vandenbranden was that it really forced you to think, to make decisions about certain choices being made on stage. This was highlighted right at the beginning when a pregnant woman left a crying baby to die in the snow and many people in the audience laughed out loud, not in a derisory way, but certainly in a manner that I couldn’t understand.

32 rue Vandenbranden runs at the Barbican in London until 31 January 2015. Tickets are available from the Barbican website.

Gerard Davis

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