Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: USSR Was Here, ICA

Review: USSR Was Here, ICA

Published on Culture Wars, 21.01.2010

On and on rolls this conveyor belt of horrors; all more or less human in form, but their humanity is so distorted that it seems, at times, entirely absent. They are, instead, mechanized playthings and Frannkenstinian monsters; wild-eyed clowns and jangle-brained drunks; disfigurations and detritus of humankind, as if made alien by pain. As if snapped, twisted and burst, pot-boiled and pressure-cooked. As if tortured to the point of reconfiguration.

There came a certain point, about half an hour in – probably more, possibly less – where I felt a quiver of panic. What if it never ends? What if this proves purgatorial? Or worse: a slow descent, ever-more grating as it extends, moment by moment, into infinity. This must be what it feels like to become trapped in an acid trip, where each repetition frays your mind that little bit more.

BlackWhiteSky’s piece is, therefore, more endured than it is enjoyed. It is described as an impressionist portrait of disintegration and, in that, it certainly fulfils its promise: coiling vine-like around you and dragging you down with it. Its underlying spark, though you’d only know from the programme notes, is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the forty million victims of World Wars and dictatorships.

That explains the sound, which grows increasingly immersive throughout, swallowing you with volume. It is a clunky, misshapen beat of burst pipes and whistles of pressure, screams, explosions and gunfire, clanging metal and collapse. The machine is falling to pieces and the demented behaviour before us is the panicked result.

Because on these creatures march and shuffle from the void, each created from the careful, counter-intuitive movement of the astounding Marcella Soltan – a wiry spider of a woman – and Egor Moiseev – a stocky, smooth-headed man. They stalk each other like shadows, agonising as they go. One creation rips out his own heart, another scratches wildly at itself. One gnaws at the flesh on the other’s face. There is a double-headed monster (an illusion slickly achieved by Soltan) who tries to yank off her (real) head and an awkwardly adult babe in arms.

Lit in a discordant clash of colours – queasily bold reds, greens and blues – the whole effect is nightmarish, but strangely flat in texture. Though it is the ongoing series of entrances and exits that wear you down, it remains hard to stay engaged once you realise that nothing will change or grow. The contortions will not themselves contort. And for all that that is momentarily a terrifying prospect, it is quickly replaced by a glance towards the glowing green of the exit sign.

Photograph: London International Mime Festival/BlackWhiteSky

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