Quite what the chickens were there for remained - like much else - a moot point, but there were plenty of them, dangling from actors' belts, getting torn limb from limb, facilitating masturbation and being bloodily delivered from a pregnant woman suspended upside down on a high wooden column. There was little chance, however, to ponder the whys and wherefores, as the performers, in varying states of undress, rampaged about in the fire-lit murk of the Tramway's huge main space, driving sundry large, strange, wheeled contraptions through the hastily scattering crowd, hotly pursued by a blinding bright mobile lighting rig. Then just when you thought you were safely out of the way, here comes some mad woman charging up behind you, flailing a bunch of tied-together plastic bottles wildly around her head; meanwhile someone else is riding about on a sort of mini traction engine, yelling and flinging flour all over the place; whoops, mind that flaming torch just missing your face by inches; sorry, was that your foot? And all the while the relentless, dizzying blasts of mega decibel techno or drum and bass, the lurid, flickering play of hugely stretched shadows over the walls, the heady charge of fear -of being plunged into an unknown, grandly grotesque realm with no place to hide.
In amongst the chaos, threads and tableaux form: performers fight furiously over swaddled, babylike bundles, which are then each laid in turn on the ground, each beside a small, burning oil lamp, as the atmosphere gradually calms to sombre - and then you notice, with a squirm of horror, that the bundles are moving... bowed, timorous figures approach beseechingly out of the gloom, their dress and demeanour recalling images of East European refugees, their odd looking backpacks revealed, on closer inspection, as mummified corpses. Four women perch in a circle atop tall wooden poles, dousing themselves ritually in milk; giant barrel like eggs roll imposingly down the centre of the hall, veered this way and that by their unseen occupants.
Visually and viscerally, it's a breathtaking ride, a kind of savage, anarchic circus seething with fearsome, frenetic energy, assaulting and buffeting the senses in a blitz of sensation, momentum and surprise. Cerebrally, however, it's rather more problematic; while purporting to dramatise the endemic conflicts and power plays of our fragmented fin-de-siecle society, Manes offers precious little in the way of your actual intelligibility. Chickens and eggs, blood and milk, sex and death - the elemental symbols are there, but what they're gesturing towards remains essentially opaque. For bravura theatrical daring, however, along with sheer all round intensity of experience, it would be hard to match.
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