L’Immediat, Barbican Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

It must be terrifying to set up this show. L’Immédiat starts with a stage full of clutter. Furniture, cardboard boxes, ladders and stage equipment pack the whole space, out to the wings and right back to the loading bay. It looks like a junkyard, but there must be some method in the madness: performers charge through it, over it, under it, as furniture collapses under them and the scenery caves in.

The show was created by the award-winning circus artist Camille Boitel, and comes to the London International Mime Festival after a Europe-wide tour. In the opening moments, a woman comes home and everything falls over. She hangs up her coat and the rack collapses, puts her bag on the table – which is when we realise the table legs have been sawn through.

A man emerges from the rumpled bed and struggles to dress. He puts on his hat, drops his keys and knocks his hat off when he picks them up. It becomes a circular routine: drop keys, lose hat, pick up hat, drop keys. It’s pitched somewhere between slapstick and the dark dance theatre of Pina Bausch, though the comic timing could be tighter.

The chaos builds to a staggering display. Once the room has fallen in, disaster goes on spreading. Nothing is safe: not the furniture, not even the stage lights, which fall to the floor with an almighty crash. A performer jumps from a collapsing table onto a ladder, which comes pieces, its rungs and struts splintering. The performers, huddled in fur coats and big boots, hurl themselves onward until everything is smashed.

There’s a real sense of peril in this headlong rush: the panic is unnerving and funny. It burns itself out – eventually they run out of things to break – and where do you go from there? Boitel turns his team into a ruthless cleanup squad, managing to clear up the stage in five minutes. Nothing quite recaptures the opening chaos.

The rest of the show is episodic and uneven. The seven performers climb in and out of wardrobes, lose control of their own limbs, crawl after bottles of water and try to deal with the ongoing mess. There’s a nice running gag where an apparently empty wardrobe contains a man in a purple dress. L’Immédiat is skilled and inventive, but memorable mostly for its wild beginning.

Until 21 January. Box office 0845 121 6839