Theatre-Rites, Barbican Bite 11
Silk Street Theatre

Leo Altarelli, Adriano Adewale, Clemmie Sveaas and Cody Choi in Mojo, photocredit Phil Conrad

The wonderful Theatre-Rites, whom I have admired and adored for many years, brings a show for all the family, age five and above, to a venue that seemed to have lost its Mojo on the Saturday before Christmas—the place half-deserted, no buzz, no spirit. And no drink or food allowed into the theatre—a bit tricky that with little ones resorting to cramming treats into mouths at the door or delaying gratification.

Artificial resuscitation a difficult ‘ask’ for the talented company, who work very hard, when the theatre is half empty, the audience polite and there are very few children. What is going on? Where is the loyal audience? My seven-year-old companion, who loved Mischief (Peacock Theatre 2009) and was looking forward to Mojo, was disappointed: ‘I think Mischief was better’.

That said, the show, a mix of music, dance, simple magic tricks and puppetry, is beautiful to look at. Peter Mumford’s set and lighting designs prove that less is more. A simply framed black space, outlined in lights that change colour and change the shape of the stage from tiny doorways to cinemascope.

His multi-purpose, shiny, black, tilting, trapezoid, polygon revolve is an ingenious work of art as well as a slick, practical prop. Triangular trap doors open and it bursts into flower. Burrow holes, stepping stones, bathing pools are conjured.

Frames within frames, from which step puppets and their handlers. Basic geometric shapes that turn into birds, large people ants and a six-legged monster spider. Growing up and finding your Mojo is what this show purports to be about.

A baby (circle, square and four triangles) becomes a sweet little girl, who then grows (elongating cone) into a moody teenager. Lots of handy cones… the three-cone vanishing trick momentarily grabs attention. Circles are hoops, trampolines, and black holes.

Maths and measuring, but also rhythm and beat, a pendulum ball swings to a metronome tick. Playing their own compositions, Adriano Adewale on percussion, Leo Altarelli on trumpet, both are exceptional, but then they bring out the ukelele, guitar, harmonica, Jewish harp, xylophone and tuba.

The language of music is universal, but the drumbeat speaks of many things. It beats life into imaginary beings, as the dancer performers try to summon up ‘magic and mystery before your eyes’. A baby surfing on a tiny xylophone gets a laugh.

Imaginative play, carnival spirit, cheerleading sponge strip pom-poms that turn into a garden of multi-coloured trees, bushes and grasses, tap dancing on boxes, jungle rhythms, and rock music, yet somehow the performers fail to ignite the audience.

There was no earthly reason why the show did not catch on this particular night, the ingredients were fine, but that special something was missing. Maybe director Sue Buckmaster, and co-director and choreographer Arthur Pita, in trying to please everyone, lost sight of theatrical dynamic… didn’t anticipate passivity…

An incredibly passive audience seemed resistant to the charm of the lovely people on stage. The eighty-minute show could probably do with losing ten minutes. Just when my young companion had had enough (‘what are they doing?’) and was clock-watching, audience participation came too late and too little.

Sadly, we didn’t find our Mojo, as the party appeared to be going on elsewhere…

Till 31st December 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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