performance Tokyo Ghetto Arnolfini, Bristol

The promise of a physical theatre company so physical that the performers are left black and blue had an undeniably ghoulish charm about it. The reality, however, was sufficient to turn the voyeur inside all of us into a bit of a wimp. The performance began with a woman wearing a backless evening gown seated on a chair. A man entered and proceed to slap her back with the palm of his hand, very hard indeed. As he slapped, the skin reddened until the beginning of a bruise began to form (in truth, it was already there, courtesy, presumably, of the previous performances on the tour). He slapped some more until you felt that someone in the audience must say something, or at least walk out, but no-one did. There was no music, no lighting effects, nothing save an actress getting physically abused.

But what had begun as very poor, poor theatre soon became ever more Artaudian, fulfilling the company's stated brief of incorporating many disparate styles. Taped music (from Ryuichi Sakamoto) accompanied slow, balletic movements from a female chorus, while two television monitors showed a montage of images including snatches of an anti-Japanese wartime propaganda film. A circular disc was lowered from the ceiling, on which the performers balanced precariously. There followed a kind of punk interlude, with a karaoke routine to Iggy Pop's "Raw Power", which was great.

The components of what turned out to be a fascinatng spectacle were then added one by one until all the following was going on: an actress munching cabbage leaves and spitting them out on the floor; the female chorus reappearing dressed in Forties underwear with their heads veiled in surgical dressings; a guinea pig wriggling in a transparent container.

As the climax of the show approached (after nearly an hour and a half's duration), an actress took the guinea pig from the jar and began to cuddle it. Ominously, another actress moved a lectern to the centre of the stage and began to slice up a page of A4 paper with a Stanley knife. Oh no, you thought, not the guinea pig! The ending, however, was all sweetness and light. An epilogue showed a hooded demonstrator mime the throwing of a stone, while a Chinese guard looked on. The guard then took the stone and threw it himself, before leaving the stage with the demonstrator, arm in arm. Tiananmen Square, right?

Asked for a post-match summary you'd have to say that it was intermittently superb, with images that were deeply strange and powerful, communicated through a chillingly disciplined technique. At other times, however, it seemed like nothing so much as a load of old toss, at least to the beery philistine that shares house-room with the voyeur inside us all. And whether it was worth anyone's sore back, or a psychologically scarred guinea pig, is debatable.

Phil Johnson

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