Theatre: It's a kind of magic

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The Independent Culture
IT'S NEARLY seven years now since Theatre de Complicite's Street of Crocodiles began life in the Cottesloe and took the breath away with those stupendous opening images. Figures from the story's past hatch out of crates of books or emerge, splitting plumes of water, from tin baths. And, above all the rest, in more senses than one, a man walks down a brick wall at the back of the stage so that we seem to be getting an aerial view of a saunter along a moonlit street. "Is that abseiling or magic?" asked my 11-year-old assistant, as we watched this wondrously inventive and moving revival at the Queen's Theatre. We both readily agreed that the more perceptive answer would be "magic".

The piece works even better in the current larger space, the sheer height of the stage creating a brooding, shadowy top layer over this phantasmagoric plunge into the creative imagination of Bruno Schulz, the Polish-Jewish author, shot dead by an SS agent in 1942, whose weird stories are the launch-pad for the show. Looking at my old review, I found that I concentrated mostly on the earlier parts of this expressionist, physical-theatre event. Perhaps because I was viewing it with an impressionable child, I was more bowled over this time by the harrowing later stages, scored against searingly bitter-sweet and agonised string music.

The sinister sound of an army patrol punctuates the piece in which the lanky, sensitive Cesar Sarachu once again plays Joseph, the Schulz-surrogate at bay in a dark, totalitarian regime. Books - their vulnerability and transformative powers - are a strong and recurring image. Flapped about, alongside brollies, they become the exotic aviary of the hero's eccentric father. Or, when the outside threat is at its greatest, rows of volumes cascade from the shelves with the frightening speed and force of a long, coiled spring.

My companion said that much of it reminded her of Alice, if with a sadder undertow. The company creates a surreal, balletic world in which would- be lovers strain towards each other in an attempt to join the matching halves of symbolically broken plates, hindered by great bolts of cloth from the father's drapery store. And there's the marvellous final sequence when, after being shot, Joseph strips down to his undershorts and is passed tenderly, like a tiny baby, down the row of his family. A piercing image of the prematurity of that loss.

Booking (0171-494 5040) to 20 Feb