Brothers Abroad brand

Saturday, May 15, 1999

“De La Guarda” @ The Roundhouse

The morning after the night before .........

The promotional artwork for this show carries the banner ‘‘As Good As Sex’‘, rather surprisingly attributed to The Guardian. I have to assume that this is one of those out-of-context quotes so universally overused by enthusiastic marketeers, as not only does it appear to be simplistically crass coming from such a respected organ, but at the risk of appearing to play the prude, it actually also undersells the show.  This spectacle of big-time sensuality is a massive assault on the senses:Teatre de Complicite blended with elements of Cirque du Soleil in an exhilarating, hallucinogen and amphetamine cocktail.

We’re talking: visual art installations, virtual reality, street party, rave, ghost train, rollercoaster, aerial wire work, acrobatic, female mud wrestling (you had to be there !) and alternative flamenco (Joaquim Cortez, eat your heart out !) - to give a flavour of the appeal and to name but a few of the elements to be experienced.

As a North London resident, I am embarrassed to admit to having been a Roundhouse virgin until last night’s performance.  My excuse is that it has been closed for much of the time since I moved to London, I ‘missed’ the Prince party ( in 199?) and recent events such as The Chinese or Moscow State Circus and The Circus of Horrors did not really appeal. I barely knew what to expect - my scant information on the show from various sources (including my barber :"that’s the one with the water ..." ) can be summed up as follows: this would be an entirely novel, standing experience, lasting approximately one hour and ten minutes, during which I would get wet. I can confirm the accuracy of all of the above: those with permed, relaxed or similar hair should wear a discreet hat ( large brims will be as well-received as an umbrella!) and claustrophobes may want to think twice, but most importantly, I can ecstatically report that the earth did move in a big way!

The first thing one notices on entry to the celebrated rotunda is that it is not clear to the London theatre-goer where the ‘‘best seat ‘’ would have been. So having been shepherded into the viewing area, the audience shuffles around uneasily beneath a canopy (which later turned out to be of thick paper), like reluctant guests at an unfamiliar wedding reception on a rainy afternoon (tip: ‘‘the middle’’ is where the action is).  One has no idea from where the players will appear.  A few words on this mad, merry ensemble ......... I discovered afterwards that they apparently hail from Argentina, but my impression at the time was that these were without doubt the Iberian rejects who were too original, too expressive, too sensual and too hyperactive to be taking direction even from Almodovar.  The four women and five men of outrageous athleticism are so off-the-wall, they probably need their ropes and harnesses in real life!

Speaking as one who likes to be entertained if I’ve paid good money rather than being forced against my will to make a fool of myself for the entertainment of others, the show is a major statement in favour of audience participation without the usual cringe-factor. The degree of interactivity verges on intercourse at times (of which more below), but as long as you’re not too precious about some ostensibly off-his-face, Latin stranger in a soaking wet suit wrapping himself around and kissing your date on the mouth , this is an exhilarating and life-inspiring night out.  However, if you’re the type who found the flakes of the half-time snowstorm at Cirque du Soleil’s ‘‘Alegria’’ in any way intrusive, this may sadly not be for you.

‘‘De La Guarda’’ runs seamlessly (if seemingly chaotically) from start to finish without any interval or discernible breaks, but it is probably best described in four parts (although it is difficult to dissect such a complete experience into any distinct parts at all )..........The first part is a relatively incubated experience beneath the translucent paper canopy which doubles as an overhead screen onto which breathtaking representations of life, the universe and everything are ingeniously "projected’‘: the deep, blue sea (beautifully calming), other fluids of a more bodily nature in micrscopic form (fascinating), the sky at night (spontaneous gasps, then cheers from the now enthusiastic and extrovert wedding guests) ......Against this changing backdrop , anthropomorphic silhouttes float around tethered to umbilical ropes.  And just when you’re thinking ‘‘very clever, visually stunning…but will my feet and neck enjoy another hour of this arty stuff?’‘.......

The canopy begins to disintegrate and wild men in suits and harnesses come tearing through it on ropes and make off into the air, bungee-fashion with kicking, screaming damsels from the audience.  As the canopy is ripped apart, a whole new world is born in a rainbow explosion of colour, as if a giant party cracker has been pulled up above in the dome of the venue, causing a myriad of balloons, confetti and other party paraphenalia to come floating down onto the assembled mass. [ This was the precious moment when I critically forgot that I had come armed with my Canon Ixus , but actually froze in open-mouthed awe like a frightened rabbit when the target presented itself in all its glory.] The ensuing atmosphere of euphoria and carnival is short-lived and soon evaporates, giving rise to condensation in the form of dry ice mist and drizzle (hats on !) .......

In no time, the audience finds itself in the midst of a monochrome storm at sea with wind, rain and noise all around.  This is the time when most of the audience participation takes place, with the players staggering into the crowd: dashing guys-with-edge in sodden suits and veritable banshees in short wet skirts.  Perhaps the relatively weakest aspect of a supremely strong show is that this mingling is allowed to continue a little too long, particularly the thong-clad bloke of the hirsute hindquarters, who overplayed his bungee-assisted spiderman act, understandably relishing the facility with which he could literally pick up girls from on high.

At this point, the music should be mentioned, as it is a constant accompaniment to the players’ antics.  The music can be described as being of the ‘‘world’’ variety with hypnotic drum beats throughout and some occasional vocal hysteria.  The ‘‘score’’ is not exactly peppered with memorable tunes later to be whistled into the Camden night, but it nevertheless plays its own crucial part in the performance. There are sections within part three when the party crowd is taken on excursions to what feels on one occasion like a House of Pain gig (’‘Jump Around’‘!) and on another, to a big beat rave complete with strobe effects. The strobe is at its most effective when two of the banshees are manically scaling a white wall as a duo upwardly zig-zagging to the beats and this spectacular stunt is repeated as the climactic encore.

The calm after the storm is by contrast a refreshingly, soothing musical respite from the preceding chaos - the players assembled as an uncharacteristically tidy group actually behaving themselves.  In visible and respectful appreciation of the audience’s reaction, the group spokesman said, ‘’ thank you for sharing this energy with us’‘. In fact, he and his crew had given us an energy transfusion - after the exertions of the previous hour, there was no question of any ‘‘little death’’ for our part. On the contrary, we all left the landmark building as if having secreted an extra slice of life in our combat trouser pockets.


Posted by Dej on 15 May around 12pm

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