Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Kefar Nahum, Barbican Centre & Rankefod, ICA

Review: Kefar Nahum, Barbican Centre & Rankefod, ICA

Published on Culture Wars, 28.01.2010

“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here?” begs Miranda in The Tempest, her eyes newly opened to fresh possibilities. We might do the same when faced with the similarly brave new worlds – each populated with animals so exotic, they defy classification – that crystallise together in these two Mime Festival shows.

In both Kefar Nahum, by Belgian duo Compagnie Mossoux-Bronte, and Kitt Johnson’s Rankefod our brains flicker to make sense of what our eyes are receiving. The impulse to zoomorphise, or further still anthropomorphise, is here turned in on itself, such that we become caught up between the illusion and its actual component counterparts. In the former, Nicole Massoux creates an entire alien ecosystem out of a jumble sale’s worth of junk, animating allsorts into peculiar lifeforms. Johnson’s raw material, by contrast, is her body alone, which she twists and contorts – with a little help from smart and tricksy lighting – into all manner of animals, loosely tracing evolutionary history.

At one level, we experience the two pieces in much the same way – always struggling to identify both the resemblance and its source. With Johnson, we are engaged in anatomical study, tracing the configuration of joints to comprehend the human arrangement that can trick us into seeing insects, reptiles and celluar organisms. When Massoux is at work, we must look beyond constitution to the simpler material properties of the object – shape, say, or texture – to snag on its identity.

However, where Rankefod is a satisfying puzzle – an affront to your spatial reasoning – that swallows your attention, Kefar Nahum seems mundane, little more than a sequence of objects briefly manipulated then tossed aside.

The difference is that Rankefod seems like an enquiry as opposed to theatre for theatre’s sake. Sure, it may not have the urgency of, say, overtly political work, but Johnson’s aim is concrete and admirably over-ambitious. (In the programme notes, she writes: “by reaching for the impossible one stretches the limits of the possible”) Around these aims, there is also a sense of progression; a logical through line that allows each particular formation to function in relation with those immediately preceding and following it.

None of this can be said of the object manipulation of Kefar Nahum, which thrives on a certain charm and, even, cutesy appeal. Admittedly, the funny little things are each the perfect product of the individual source object, but as a whole they seem a haphazard menagerie. The governing principle seems simply to be whatever works, whatever looks good or amuses, and, as such, anything goes. With this lack of constraints, of boundaries, there comes a certain self-indulgence which serves only to undermine Massoux’s manipulation. Too often we see her plainly. As a wigged woman with a sock on her hand.

Photograph: Mikha Najnrych

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