Ever seen an actor playing the role of a 69-year-old woman's erogenous zone? It's a comic but unsettling sight, especially when her sexual partner is a 16-year-old boy, and just one of several mildly gruesome aspects of this theatrical encounter with a blind old lady, laundering memories that stretch back across the 20th century.
Isabella's Room, the Belgian Needcompany's straggling memoir, mixing song, dance and story, is introduced by the white-suited writer/director Jan Lauwers. He was inspired to create the show by the bequest of 5,800 artefacts from his anthropologically inclined father. A fraction of his collection forms the striking set - masks, tools, sculptures, and other objects from Africa and Egypt - placing the context of the work firmly in Lauwers' colonial inheritance. And that history, with all its implications, is also the root of Isabella's fantastical story.
A cast of 10 - including Lauwers, who oversees the action from a ringside seat - acts out the life of Isabella Morandi, now nearly 90, and blind, fat and scatty. Near the beginning, she reveals that her isolated childhood was spent partly in a nunnery, partly in a lighthouse with a drunken couple who she thinks are her foster parents. She then moved on to her exotically furnished Parisian room.
It is the fossilised, fetishised contents of this room that form Lauwers' set. Isabella thought she had inherited it all from her real father who, she'd been led to believe, was an African prince. This is the lie that has grown from a seed planted in the mind of a child to become the fabric of Isabella's existence. Her mother, it transpires, was raped by her father. Neither of her parents had been able to come to terms with that, or to tell Isabella the truth.
In her final years, Isabella (given a boldly larger-than-life portrayal by Viviane De Muynck) is the subject of an experiment. A camera implanted in her brain enables her to "see" what she remembers. She's accompanied through her life-story by a gaggle of performers, who illustrate her experiences and thoughts.
As layers are added to an already pretentious scenario, we gallop through two world wars, modern art and literature, space travel, famine and war in Africa, and Isabella's adventures with a stream of lovers. The actors playing the two real loves of her life, Alexander (Hans Petter Dahl) and her grandson Frank (Marten Seghers), also composed the music for the show.
The words (French and English, sung and spoken) are accompanied by a shambolic array of kicks, turns, jumps, and uncomfortably intimate encounters between an old hippie and a wisp of a girl. The idea loses focus and the production is crying out for a different, more objective directorial hand to apply some much-needed discipline to the narrative, and a clarity to Lauwers' concept.Reuse content