Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Hilum, ICA

Review: Hilum, ICA

Published on Culture Wars, 24.01.2011

To air one’s dirty laundry is, of course, to clean the skeletons from one’s closet, but washing machines and osteology have never been so intimately connected as in this petite amuse-bouche from French puppeteers Les Antliaclastes.

Taking its lead from the various stages of a washing machine cycle, Hilum creates an urban alternative to the woodland clearing. In a stained utility room, a collection of skeletal sprites set down their revels to the rhythms of a launderer, looming above them like a sacred temple: the pantry’s own Parthenon.

Tonally, Hilum is a nightmare in watercolours. Demonic figures, boney crabs and bats each with tiny humanoid skulls, are mollified by their cuteness. Even if the aesthetic is more impressive than the manipulation, Les Antliaclastes handle a very delicate balance throughout. It’s like a vision of Hell glimpsed in a saucer of milk.

There’s a great deal of fun to be had in spotting the segments of the cycle: the rush of the speed whir becomes a celebration of mischief; the flood, an underwater rock ‘n’ roll jive. Most piquant of all, is the final juddering drainage as transformed into the strains of labour, until finally, a miniature washing machine pops out, covered in soapy amniotic fluid, and spins a teensy whites wash.

Arguably, Hilum taps into the child’s fear of a violent domestic presence. Just as you think it’s over, in a lull of calm that brings fairytale creatures and greenery, the drying process begins and the darkness returns. A skeletal figure, now life-size, stares out at us unnervingly; the petals round its head are parched. This process, no matter how daisy-fresh the conditioner, is not a natural one.

Truth be told, however, it is a spiral with next to no real-world urgency. Nonetheless, Les Antliaclastes have created a beautiful diversion laced with dark mischief. Washing day will never be quite the same again.

Photograph: Les Antliaclastes

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