Theatre: On the Fringe

Balancing Acts White Bear: Strange Fruit perform Flight Greenwich & Docklands Festival
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The Independent Culture
SCYLLA, DEVOURER of sailors and terror of ancient heroes, has come to London. She lies face down on a bed, matted hair fanning out, arms extended so that, in the theatre's intimate space, the audience is focused on her groping, misshapen hand.

One finger arches and becomes a claw as she silences the room, drawing it into her mood of dark grotesquerie as she tells them about the stench and ugliness that stop her from being anything but the most literal of man-eaters.

Wendy Metcalf has written eight short plays under the title Balancing Acts. The balance in each teeters between civilised "sanity" and anti- social madness, and Metcalf's slant is such that the outsiders are the more compelling. Van Gogh, wild-eyed with starvation, has his rants for recognition synchronised with the shouts of the auctioneer selling his work for millions years later. A young woman who seeks thrills by shoplifting confesses to parents so starved of imagination they can see no remedy beyond the next cup of tea and biscuits.

Watching Metcalf's plays is like seeing a piece of good cloth cut by an inexperienced tailor. Sometimes she hits the mark and produces a well-crafted item, other times a play would benefit significantly from being shortened, or simply binned.

Metcalf brings dark mischief to a range of characters drawn from myth, history and a Raymond Carveresque suburbia. There is more good than bad in an evening that illustrates the extent to which a short play can encapsulate a far longer narrative if, rather than fussing with plot, it allows the nuances of language and character to speak for themselves.

Narrative is strikingly redundant in Strange Fruit's production, Flight, which elevates actors to the top of swaying poles so they can taunt the audience with gravity-defying clowning. Like much physical theatre, it plunges below the dialogue-line to grapple with movements that inspire fear as well as childlike amusement.

A golden boy is boinged into the air on a rod, and surrounded by characters dressed in black with puritan collars and long businessman umbrellas. Using composers from JS Bach to Philip Glass, the performers flit through the changing musical moods to create a mid-air dance about his flailing attempts to fly. Fears for their safety gives a tantalising quality to the carnivalesque capers. Sufferers of vertigo will not forget this quickly.

`Balancing Acts' (White Bear 0171-793 9193) to 17 July