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Survivor, Barbican Theatre


We all know what a Gormley looks like: gazing straight ahead with his arms limp by his sides, he’s been placed by his creator on bleak seashores, on the roofs of high buildings, and anywhere else you’d least expect to find him, so it was no surprise to be confronted by the back view of a Gormley who remained motionless at the front of the Barbican stage for so long that one was driven out of boredom to read the programme.

There one learned that ‘Survivor’ would be ‘a work by Hofesh Shechter, interrupted and reconstructed by Antony Gormley’. A note from the sculptor explained that they wanted to induce in the audience a feeling of uncertainty about their place in the work and in the world. If this resulted in ‘a sense of sadness’, that could be attributed to powerlessness in the face of ‘encroaching desert, human or natural tsunamis, nuclear threat, or regret at not yet having made contact with other forms of starlife’. ‘Our job,’ Gormley concluded grandly, ‘became to actualise this sense of loss.’ Meanwhile composer-choreographer Shechter declared that as far as he was concerned, it was up to the audience to take all the ingredients presented to them ‘and make their own soup in their head.’ Enough already.

The ingredients were soon coming thick and fast, thanks to two string ensembles, a big drum ensemble, and an additional hundred drummers arriving to ensure that none of the sung and spoken words were audible. Five agile Gormleys hurled themselves hysterically about; a giant screen filled the stage with black and white images of waves, a falling skyscraper, a morphing swarm of migrating birds, and Niagara Falls – against which backdrop a Gormley mummy was suspended, turning wanly in the breeze. Sometimes things were deafening, sometimes quiet and peaceful, with just the gentlest hint of violins. The music was by turns redolent of Arabic big band, African tribal, Bob Dylan, and Arvo Part. There was violence – on stage, and in newsreel film of a tank battle – and some Cocteau-style playing with perspective. Members of the audience sometimes appeared in close-up on the screen.

The auditorium was stuffed with Olympic movers and shakers who applauded wildly at the end, because this was perfect O2 fodder. What soup did I make? Thin gruel.