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The Independent Culture
The experimental theatre company IOU's latest work, Distance No Object, sends five actor / singers on a surreal train journey. En route, they pass a mechanical seascape complete with miniature lighthouse, a pair of coy pantomime horses singing a discordant duet and a Punch and Judy booth that doubles as a dalek. Straddling sophisticated music theatre and extravagant stage illusion, it's like a cross between Stephen Sondheim and the Little Angel Marionette Theatre. Certain images have a sublime and resonant beauty - the toy boat adrift on a starlit sea or the filmed waves breaking silently on to a cubic screen - and the dynamic Creative Jazz Orchestra moves with great agility from whispered wind and piano to full-throttle brass. Though the work's eschewing of any dark concerns can sometimes lend it a quality of benign escapism, IOU's achievement in galvanising an intense, childlike response and reawakening our sense of wonder, is considerable.

Childlike responses have no place in Ronald Fraser-Munro's witty adult tale of unrequited love, Le Chaise Longue Dangereuse, which meshes live performance with video, slides and newsreel. This piece, for the performance group Le Shovelle Diplomatique (pictured above), has verve and substance and avoids the danger that besets many mixed media works - that of form overwhelming content. A zany story of two neighbours (man-trap Monique de Pression and aspiring poet Jacques du Quack), it contrasts her jazzy, sophisticated lifestyle, played out in neon colours in a video short, with his ploddingly monochrome stage existence. The pleasure of the piece derives from Du Quack's bad poetry and the darting images of De Pression's Technicolor world. This is a short, ambitious work, which gives more sombre ideas - such as how death proves love ephemeral - a light, ironic touch.

The second piece, Bruder C'est Grim! is less arresting. Fraser-Munro strides across the stage, clasping gun and microphone, a cross between Big Brother, an Old Testament prophet and a party political broadcast on behalf of the Green Party, indicting the audience for mankind's pollution of the planet. Behind him a screen is dominated by images of war and brutality - a familiar catalogue of 20th-century wretchedness set to the usual brooding electronic score.

Scottish performance artist Donna Rutherford harnesses music rather than video to the articulation of her concerns. The Whole Truth, Nothing But has a promising opening - an international group of musicians and their eclectic instruments litter the darkened stage as though for the start of a gig. Rutherford is an engaging narrator, interweaving the company's individual stories with the conflicts of imaginary characters. Bouts of music and bursts of native languages chivvy the tales along. Familiar themes emerge, but neither the admirably colloquial text nor the cosy format permits them much development. In one scene, while the audience is sitting upright, unmoved, in the Court's lecture hall of a theatre, the cast relaxes on a sofa swilling cans of beer - well, someone may as well enjoy the show.

n The plays reviewed were all part of the Barclay's New Stages Festival

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