Triptych: The missing door, The lost room and The hidden floor

Gabriela Carrizo, Frank Chartier
Peeping Tom
Barbican Theatre

Triptych: The missing door, The lost room and The hidden floor Credit: Virginia Rota

Rosemary's Baby meets David Lynch in a subterranean tale of a sinking ship where sinister collides with slapstick in a seriously freakish, cinematic mind and body bending show from Belgian physical theatre company Peeping Tom.

Triptych is intensely surreal. Broken into three acts, The missing door, The lost room and The hidden floor, action opens onto a frenzied man mopping up tell-tale blood stains that can never be fully eradicated, while another lies dying in the corner. It ends with nothing less dramatic than drowning bodies in an apocalypse as dancers shudder, skid and struggle swilling about in water poured onstage as the ship goes under.

Horror rubs up against comedy in a surreal theatre of the absurd. Dancers clean and carry out endless domestic tasks from hoovering to changing the bedsheets, while couples copulate in the corner and others stagger about bloodied on the verge of death. Mirroring Lynch-infused filmic weirdness, behind the façade of normal sits disturbing, sordid undercurrents of human behaviour.

Doors, wardrobes and windows are characters in their own right. A dancer reclines on a sofa and lifts her her leg up and down timed with the door opening and slamming shut. A maid in underwear is cast out onto a balcony window and we see her trapped in a blizzard as she presses up against a window. We are watching her watching us, watching her. Seriously voyeuristic stuff. Surreal, filmic snapshot images tumble out one after another as the audience are carried deeper into the sinister ship's belly.

Look in one of the mirrors and the face that reflects back is not your own. Open the cupboard and clothes are hanging neatly in place. Open again and out tumbles half-naked bodies that scatter like leaves blowing in the wind. Dancers mould into painfully contortionist shapes that elastically defy logic in terms of what the body is able to do without breaking in two. Heads are detached from their owners and beds have a life of their own when newly fitted sheets rise and fall as if the ghost of cruise ships is escaping from Neptune’s underworld.

Solid walls melt into thin air and are collapsed and rebuilt as part of the theatrical experience. There is no curtain pause or artificial break to the flow of the action as the dancers and crew dismantle and reassemble the set. As the fourth wall comes tumbling down, the physical and imaginary space that separates the audience from the outpouring of drama onstage dissolves.

The harrowing imagery is set against a live score that picks up on all the minutiae of an astounding repertoire of movement mapped out incredibly by the dancers. Then, approaching the apocalypse in the spirit of a requiem, dancers fold and fall to the music of baroque beauty and spiritual pureness. It's Dante’s Inferno but we are lulled by sonorous sounds that almost looks comical against the falling bodies.

Physical movement is nothing short of superhuman and not always comfortable to watch. Women are dragged across the stage as if inflated, human-size dolls, whilst often being dominated by an overbearing male predator. In one scene in The hidden floor, a male dancer literally drops his female partner to the ground with a large thud that reverberates out to the auditorium. In another, a women forgets how to walk in her heels as ankles and legs collapse inwards.

The hidden floor is perhaps the most powerful, bringing the drama to a deathly close. As the gates of hell open, waves surge and desolation cancels out the flaying bodies that land in a pile, blown with violent force across the net-curtained dining room. Finally, the cast are submerged in splashy water as the ship surrenders to the sea.

So long as you are prepared to be lost, confused and often confounded, then do submit to the sweeping surrealism of Peeping Tom's strange world that refuses to sweep the maggots under the carpet to reveal humanness in all its fascinating multilayered complexity. Highly original, powerful and visually all-consuming theatre.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi

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