THEATRE: Artful dodgems

Bernadetje, The Roundhouse, London
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
In the middle of Bernadetje, there's a long sequence of entrancing loveliness. To the accompaniment of a plaintive bass aria from Bach, four "yoofs" whirl around in a dodgem car. Sounds like a pretty tight fit, but it's not, the way these guys (and one doll) do it. Looking like some bizarrely- beautiful exo-skeletal organism, the dodgem is just the moving centre for a flying-buttress display of sensuous and consensual abandonment.

Bodies arch backwards right out of the car, almost sweeping the floor as the machine glides about or they hoop themselves like a ship's figurehead against the pole which they also twirl round, trapeze-artist-style. It's ice-ballet without the bother of ice or skates, a constantly shifting, hypnotic image of preening surrender to serenity. Which is a paradox, given that, as a fairground attraction, the dodgem track might seem an arena where you'd be more inclined to work off road rage than work out your differences.

There's a heavy price to pay for witnessing this spectacle: i.e. having to sit through the long sections on either side of it. Conceived by Alain Platel and Arne Sierens and brought to Britain by the Fleming company, Victoria, Bernadetje is very Euro, very Eu-ropey. "You can see it," says Platel, of the dodgem track setting, "as a dance floor, a centre with its periphery, in which a game of watching and being watched is played out, a place where intimacy is surreptitiously thought out." Or you can see it as a deeply dull, predictable parade, to a back beat of everything from House to pounding disco, of youthful alienation and anger, cross- generational differences and initiation rituals.

Matters aren't helped by the decision to put the stilted dialogue into English. This leaves the Flemish cast lumbered. They deliver the belligerent, expletive-filled exchanges with a disabling mix of aggression and ginger caution. It's like watching a boxing match in which both participants are on Zimmer frames. Let's hope, too, that the acoustics are better at the Glasgow and Newcastle venues than they were at London's Round House.

The world the show reflects is a stunted one, and so, I suspect, is the show's vision of it. A little girl wanders round in a white communion outfit, gazing soulfully heavenwards. Then, towards the end, she undoes her hair and starts disco-dancing with unsettling precocity alongside the rest of them. You'd never guess that life can offer a child other options that these extremes. But then, according to Sierens, "an audience wants to surf on chaos, switch between extreme emotions." In other words: check your brains in at the door, kids, and come and meet some role-models in a great big muzzy metaphor.

To be honest, one of the main reasons the piece leaves you feeling frustrated is that you long to hop in a car and join the action. How about a play where the audience rode around, too - working title: The Artful Dodgems!

Paul Taylor

Comments