Chimera

Deborah Stein
Stein-Holum Productions
Gate, Notting Hill

Suli Holum Credit: Helen Murray
Suli Holum Credit: Helen Murray
Suli Holum Credit: Helen Murray

For those without a classical education, it is worth explaining that a Chimera is a mythical beast with the body of a goat, but the head of a lion and the tale of a snake. Depending upon which source one chooses, it may also be mother to the Sphinx.

Anyone who has seen the work of Canadian theatrical auteur Robert Lepage will instantly see his influence on this 65-minute solo performance.

The ideas and presentation have a tendency to feel like out-takes from The Far Side of the Moon, his mind-expanding play featuring multimedia visuals and a pair of brothers so alike that they are compelled to compete.

Following a whimsically poetic opening delivered from the fifth row by a sing-song lady from the American South, Chimera takes as its off-the-wall starting point the odd device of the almost twin.

Apparently, where the development of twins stops a few days early, one person can very literally embody the traits and DNA of a pair of people. This obviously has the scope to cause internal chaos and does so for Jennifer Samuels, whose name is repeated so often during the evening that it can make the teeth grind in irritation.

She is a microbiologist who, on discovering that her 8-year-old son Brian has a congenital heart defect, is baffled to discover that in opposition to scientific certainties neither she nor her husband is genetically at fault.

This leads to the horror movie conclusion that her body is inhabited by an alien other, the nearly-sister.

This freaks out JS and allows Brian to make a couple of brief appearances from the fridge (really) to advance the story.

This history allows the creative team of writer/director Deborah Stein and the performer who co-directs, Suli Holum, to deliver a series of philosophical and scientific musings about twinship, genetic inheritance and very much more never being afraid to advance esoteric ideas even when they are non sequiturs.

The performing style is direct, with addresses regularly breaching the fourth wall in an attempt to draw in and involve the audience.

In addition to Miss Holum's portrayal of mother, son and some more ethereal other figures, there are Lepage type projections, which can be spectacular, even if the screens are no more than bland kitchen furnishings.

Chimera is far stronger on concept than content and will probably appeal most to fans of quirky performance and experimental theatre.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher