Along for the ride

Derevo | Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

There may be only four performers in Derevo's The Rider, but they populate the stage with a chaotic pageant of bizarre archetypes. The mêlée of disguises makes it virtually impossible to identify their leader, Anton Adassinski, former actor, rock musician and clown, who founded Derevo (the Russian for "tree") in Leningrad in 1988 and has now moved the company's base to Dresden.

There may be only four performers in Derevo's The Rider, but they populate the stage with a chaotic pageant of bizarre archetypes. The mêlée of disguises makes it virtually impossible to identify their leader, Anton Adassinski, former actor, rock musician and clown, who founded Derevo (the Russian for "tree") in Leningrad in 1988 and has now moved the company's base to Dresden.

To add to the confusion, murky gloom covers the stage more often than not, so that you find yourself screwing up your eyes to discern the moving silhouettes. The production, Derevo's fourth to arrive at the London International Mime Festival, begins with near-invisible figures scampering about in this penumbra. Who they are is anybody's guess, but one of them ends up in a corner behind a trellis that, as the show progresses, emerges as a kind of habitation or retreat.

The characters who follow the dim prologue appear like hallucinations: a medieval-style bride; a would-be martyr with crucifixion poses; a shambling, bumbling tramp-figure with ambitions to fly, who gets entangled in his harness; a seedy sailor who runs on to the stage wearing his boat. They are all freaky head-cases that you would not want to meet under any circumstances and they form a string of unrelated scenes. The costumes and props are the stuff of car-boot sales. AndrejSizintsev's soundtrack builds a nicely desolate atmosphere, courtesy of, inter alia, a howling wind, Procul Harum ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") and Edith Piaf ("Je ne regrette rien").

The result could be anything - a parody of Joseph Conrad novels? An original spin on EastEnders? Anton Adassinski's programme note tells us, however, that: " The Rider was inspired by the life of the itinerant actor - people who have so many characters and performers inside them that they hardly know any more who they are."

So, are Derevo's characters derived from existing plays? You tell me. As it is, they seem more likely to have occurred in Derevo's collective imaginations during rehearsals. Nor have I the foggiest idea why they chose The Rider as its title, except thathe flying tramp sports several horses' heads between his legs, like the world's craziest sporran. The abrupt, inconsequential ending seems to sum up the show's construction, which you could, to be kind, qualifyas zanily anarchic - or else lazilyslapdash.

The cast's talent is superior to all this material. Adassinski, Tanja Khabarova, Elena Iarovaia, Alexej Mercouchev use fragments of speech and above all the eloquence of their body language to produce whacky humour and eerie extremes. A trio seated on the stage's edge with gormless, frozen faces and lobotomised interaction was worth the trip alone. So although I was frustrated by the production, I marvelled at the performances.

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