Camera Lucida—the most recent recipient of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award (You Me Bum Bum Train, Slung Low)—opened at the Barbican this week after much anticipation.
The conception of experimental artist Dickie Beau, Camera Lucida shares its name with the 1980 work of French literary theorist Roland Barthes, who considered the connections between photography, image and memorial.
With a cemented reputation in the emerging genre of ‘playback performance’ (performances built around existing sound archives), Dickie Beau reawakens the dead through a series of audio recordings, channelling the voices of William Burroughs, Virginia Woolf and Terence McKenna via seamless lip synching.
Essentially a multimedia séance, Camera Lucida questions notions of presence, death and the grey areas that exist between.
The set is oddly disarming: red cables clutter the stage, connected to numerous laptops that remain closed upon wooden tables; an eerily lit platform resides upstage centre containing an apparently floating fluorescent table; and a piano begins a jaunty repertoire, the keys working furiously—without a pianist.
As three performers (including Beau himself) twitch and gurn upon the stage in an alarming depiction of possession, the unseen presence of an 18.9 hertz audio frequency hovers above the audience—inaccessible to the human ear, yet perfectly capable of evoking an unpredictable, ethereal reaction.
As expected, it is all a little dark and lacks the clarity of a linear narrative—though structure is clearly not Beau’s intention. When dealing with the unpredictable, cohesion is understandably thrown out of the window.
Both Beau and his fellow performers are strong and there is an impressive and undervalued skill in successful lip synching, but this is certainly not a performance that invites you to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Beau demands a lot from his audience and at times it felt more comfortable to switch off than thoroughly engage, yet there is something in Camera Lucida that perhaps with a little coaxing could attract a very eager audience.
Reviewer: Alecia Marshall