The Hansel Gretel Machine

Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal

It is a great shame that for most people the word "mime" brings to mind white-faced buffoons stuck in invisible glass boxes, teetering on the edge of non-existent cliffs or inviting a smack in the face with malicious caricatures of passers-by. shows that mime can go far beyond a silent clown busking for laughs. By combining the physical expression of dance with the visual power of painting, mime cuts through the spectator's consciousness in a way that scripted theatre cannot: passing from the eyes straight to a deeper level of the brain, without the intervening analysis and association of language. It is said that we make all our important judgements of people on their appearance, not their words. The David Glass Ensemble's work plunges through this chink in the emotional armour to leave its spectators spiritually shot-blasted. The sense of searing loss which it leaves in the soul is beyond words.

is loosely based on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. On the bare bones of this structure are plastered layers of symbolism and imagery. It is a dream play, with all the floating, intangible metaphors and sensations of a nightmare. Watching it is like listening to a poem in a foreign language - one feels that if one could only understand it, there would be deep, insightful messages. But even in its ungraspable, incomprehensible form there lies a beauty and poignancy which is mesmeric and moves in a mysterious way. The trick lies in not thinking and not analysing, but just allowing the performances and the music - a vital and intrinsic component from composer Jonathan Cooper - to find their own path.

As befits the first part of David Glass' Lost Child Trilogy, the pervasive image is one of children abandoned, clinging for security to a few souvenirs and memories of a childhood washed away by tides of fear and loneliness. Yet everyone viewing this production will tell you their own interpretation of what they thought they saw. Some may refer to Jung, Freud or Janov, to the bandage-wrapped anguish art of Gottfried Helnwein or the bleak emotional desolation of Edvard Munch, or argue that the piece is an exploration of the loss of innocence, the bondage of family ties, or the rituals of pain involved in leaving childhood behind. They will all be right, for this is a piece that works on levels too deep to identify or enumerate.

This is the first production in an ambitious programme from the Ustinov's new associate director Fiona Clarke. If it is any way representative of what is to come, then cosy "Prior to West End" Bath won't know what's hit it.

Toby O'Connor Morse

Runs until 14 February, then continues tour of Britain and beyond