Diene Petterle, Neil Monaghan and Christopher Heimann
theimaginarybody at the Soho Theatre
The Imaginary Body Theatre Company's 100 combines an incredible amount into one hour. It is a philosophical treatise, a comedy, a piece of physical theatre and above all, a pleasure. It is no surprise that it won a Fringe First in Edinburgh and is soon to tour the world.
In some ways, for those who are naturally wary of the term "physical theatre", it sounds remarkably unpromising. When stripped bare, it could be described as a physical depiction of death with no props or music. In fact, it is an incredibly rich, metaphorical celebration of life that could literally make people review and change their own.
Five people in shabby underclothes are brought together in a limbo awaiting their final acceptance by death. It soon transpires that one of them, played superbly by Lawrence Werber is a Charon who will conduct the others to their final resting place.
He explains that eternity is spent reliving one moment from life and that it is essential to pick this both swiftly and carefully. In this way, the workaholic Sophie (Tanya Munday) is forced to reconsider her frantic existence and discovers how hollow her great achievements really were.
Alex and Nia (Matt Boatright-Simon and Claire Porter) have been lovers. It is a real revelation for both to find out their true feelings about each other. This makes their choice of a joint Nirvana impossible.
Finally, there is Ketu, an African villager played by Matthieu Leloup. He was a kind of Galileo, regarded by his peers as a dangerous heretic for believing that the world is not flat. His search for an eternal truth is not something that he could ever have achieved until his death. Like the others who move on, he has reconsidered his life and found a deeply personal peace.
With remarkable economy of language the story is played out to a sad and moving ending. For some people, honesty with oneself is impossible and the consequence can be devastating.
A description of the plot only conveys part of the impact of 100. The other is the remarkable direction of Christopher Heimann who, supported by his actors, creates images of beauty from thin air.
The only props are a handful of bamboo sticks, an orange and the actors' bodies and voices. With these and Adam Crosthwaite's sympathetic lighting, they recreate lives whether in the village, on motorcycles or in an office.
Not for a moment does it occur to the viewer that there is any disbelief to suspend. The experience is all-encompassing and often, it is as if you are shown a line-drawing but see an oil painting.
If there is any criticism, it is that the characters are not fully developed, particularly Nia and Alex. However, until Imaginary Body comes up with a two hour version of 100, this is perhaps inevitable.
This is magic realism at its very best. The fusion of good acting, an intelligent script and that unique ingredient that can convert physical drama into a rare spectacle combine to provide a special evening at the theatre. Go and see it.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher