A few facts of life

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The Independent Culture
You don't go to a production of Ibsen to have a raucously good time. And you don't necessarily go to a "physical theatre" performance to have your grey matter stretched. Until now, that is. Volcano Theatre Company's latest production, How To Live (with Fern Smith, right), is an extraordinary fusion and deconstruction of Ibsen's works, done in the astonishing, reckless physical style that has come to be their trademark.

A 1994 Edinburgh hit now transferring to London, the piece starts off in a highly stylised naturalistic way, played with hilarious earnestness. Gradually, lines are repeated, echoed and fractured while the cast begin throwing themselves around the stage with abandon, combining textual creativeness and sheer kinetic energy. From then on, Volcano's four extraordinary performers hold the attention with charismatic ease, stripping bare the theatrical illusion and bitching about each other before stepping smartly back into character.

Perhaps it is unfair to choose a star from such a uniformly strong team, but the superb Jane Arnfield's unforgettable scene involving a filing cabinet full of plastic babies has the audience crying with laughter. The wonder of How To Live is that it plays with Ibsen's drama without parodying it; the magical ending preserves in full the poetry of his best work. Why should you go to see it? Here's what director Nigel Charnock says: "We thought people might see the title and say, `Oh, that might tell me how to live'. And indeed it does - or at least, it gives you a few clues."

Steven Poole

Opens tonight, 7.30pm, Watermans Arts Centre, 40 High Street, Brentford (081-568 1176) £8.50/£5.50 concs. To 25 Mar

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