Preview: Ornamental Happiness, Unity Theatre, Liverpool

A fleeting, tantalising glimpse of joy
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The Independent Culture

Some artists are preoccupied with being remembered for hundreds of years, but vaudeville show-woman Rose English is happy for her work to be forgotten in a couple of seconds. "Some ideas can only be grasped on a visceral level, and that's what I'm interested in. It is ephemeral work, but all shows really are. When a big idea is present and palpable you get it for an instant - and then everybody instantly forgets!"

The latest big idea from the mind of this acclaimed performance artist is Ornamental Happiness, a show due in 2008 but previewing a 20-minute fragment this month. Collaborating with designer Simon Vincenzi (with whom she worked at the Royal Court in 1990 on The Double Wedding and Tantamount Esperance) and composer Luke Stoneham, English promises a feast for the senses. "The two main elements are acrobatics and music. The audience will see the bodies of the Chinese acrobats working very close up, which can be quite unnerving, particularly as the act involves contortion. For people used to special effects, watching people trained to do these things and actually seeing their bone and sinew is extraordinary. Three singers add music, and an outer circle of percussion and one solo voice render an aural diagram of what the acrobats are doing in the middle. The sound and image are working as complete replicas of one another."

A key visual component of the production is glass, often balanced in obscure and incredible ways on the performers. It is a testament to their skill, however, that "the only glasses that have been broken so far were not by the acrobats, but people picking things up and moving them from one table to another. For somebody balancing it on the end of their feet while doing a double bend, no problem!"

The extract will be performed for only 50 people at a time. "It will be very intimate," English says. She is keen to give her audience an experience - even if it is not an unforgettable one.

12 to 16 September (01517 094988;