Andersen's Dream and Salt

Odin Teatret
Directed by Eugenio Barba
Théâtre du Soleil, Paris
(2005)

Production photo from Andersen's Dream

There's an air of self-importance to the Danish Odin Teatret's current residency in Paris. Entering the first of their two shows, I was handed a collection of academic essays about the troupe and the piece. There's a veiled message: 'Our theatre is studied. It is important'.

Theory and practice however do not always equate. Since its formation in 1964, the group has been hailed as an innovator in research, pedagogy and performance. On the basis of these two shows though, the group does not seem to have discovered much about the latter.

The more successful of the two shows, Andersen's Dream, is an anarchic kaleidoscope of fantasy, real-life events and fairytale. In structure it resembles a dream, floating around the fantasies and nightmares of the Danish singer, dancer, actor and writer Hans Christian Andersen. Like a dream though, there's not much sense to it.

As the music warps from folk tunes to Elvis, Klu-Klux Clan like apparitions and tribal spirits invade the purpose-built amphitheatre; equally comfortable hacking limbs from each other or smacking Andersen on the head with a pair of spoons. A ship travels along the mirrored roof, a screaming bride hanging on for life. Andersen hangs himself and then watches as his family is murdered.

It's an overwhelming tumble of figures, image and music. With little focus, Odin's director Barba constantly jumps between Andersen's guilt at deserting his family, his struggle to break free from creative serfdom, and a half-hearted analogy between poverty and slavery.

Only when the relentless pace is slowed can the audience dream with the actors. Under a moonlit sky, Andersen strips to a white tutu and dances in the snow. It's a lonely moment of true fantasy and beauty in a ramshackle evening.

The troop's second show is a more placid if equally unappealing affair. Based on a novel of letters by Antonio Tabucchi, Salt is a duologue in which only one party speaks.

Deserted by her lover, a woman describes the cage of her love for him, awaiting his return. Meanwhile he sits onstage at a distant café, sipping red wine and accompanying her lament on a lyre-shaped guitar.

Performed in Italian without translation, the piece is the kind of idiotic and pretentious effort that just screams out for parody. At one point the women takes a book from a suitcase full of salt, rubs it against her face, licks it and hides it under her jacket. Later on she eats the pages. Full of nothing more than these tricks and signposts to emotion, it's an insincere performance that rarely crosses the language barrier. As she stares at the horizon, constantly blubbering on, you can't wait for her to finish.

As one Parisian slyly whispered in the bar afterwards, 'Eugenio Barba may write pretty theory, but he's not a director'.

Reviewer: John Cardale