Frightening dummies have a long fictional pedigree: ETA Hoffman's mechanical dolls, the shop-window displays in Doctor Who. In Twin Houses, the signature work of physical theatre company Mossoux-Bonté, Nicole Mossoux deals with half a dozen of the creatures, all of them disquieting.
The company, which returned to the London International Mime Festival this week, was founded by Mossoux with Patrick Bonté. The two specialise in film as well as theatre; Bonté's screenplays include the recent Catherine Deneuve movie The Chess Game. In Twin Houses, he handles lighting and direction, leaving Mossoux onstage with her mannequins.
She makes her first appearance alone, standing at a lectern, pen in hand. The first of the dummies peers over her shoulder, directs her writing with a peremptory hand, becoming angry when she resists.
It's not hard to see how the trick is worked: the head sits on Mossoux's shoulder, her crinkled dress hanging in pleats that seem to have enough room for a second body. Woman and mannequin share legs - although, in a later sketch, she swings a third, wooden limb for a dummy that wants to dance. These effects are simple, but unsettling: Mossoux's body seems to belong as much to the false face as it does to her own.
The mannequins are independent personalities, bossy and alarming. The first soon takes against Mossoux, producing a knife and sawing at her neck. Then it prowls the stage, clutching her apparently severed head to its chest.
The second figure is Mossoux's twin, a naturalistic model of her angular face. It's a moment before you realise that this is a different fake. When at last the twin is dropped, a third figure appears to mourn it. Another of the dummies wants to dress up, trying on red shoes, hitching up its skirts, showing Mossoux's stocking-tops, dancing.
Mossoux produces more mannequins, sometimes two or three at once. She controls them, yet often seems under their spell. The show, a series of encounters, is necessarily episodic. A few of these incidents are repetitive, adding little to what we have already seen.
Christian Genet's music, electronics with medieval-sounding percussion, is wheezily atmospheric without providing much structure. But just as the attention wanders, Mossoux's extraordinary skill unsettles you all over again.
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