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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.Les Anges de l'Enfer (Angels of the Underground)
Verdict: Alive on the Metro
Les Anges de l'Enfer is theatre that bursts with universally-recognisable tales of everyday life, yet doesn't clutter the mind with average-daily-human-experience no-shit-Sherlock dialogue.
Head-Langue Theatre dramatises life on the Paris Metro in non-verbal physical theatre and succeeds in making the airwaves fizz with the inaudible chattering frequencies of people's inner lives. Tracking fantasies and realities, a full spectrum of emotion and interaction is on show. The rejection of an unsolicited amorous approach, and the desire for an unforthcoming amorous approach; the in-your-face incidence of raw aggression, and the implied kick in the shins of passive-aggression; the rise of unrealised fantasies, and fall of realised disappointments; it's all here and there's not a chance of not recognising what's going on.
The (unnamed) five-strong ensemble performs both as a masked chorus and as a concoction of contrasting characters that might be met during a day's commute on underground trains round the world. There is a homeless bag lady - sometimes whimsical, sometimes feisty - whose physical presence is a pungent deterrent to commuters. Her unexpected grace is shown as she dances ballet and revels in a kazoo-wielding flirtation with a cleaner. His gift to her, as she sleeps, of white ballet-pumps, and his tender touch of her cheek just before she awakens, is met with her wordless yelp of joy - it's love. During the show, the cleaner - alternately grinning and scowling under his cap - battles the never-ending detritus of others' lives, as he is buffeted by eddies of scattered paper, and reaches the brink of an extreme revenge fantasy: his broom becomes an automatic rifle gunning down fleeing commuters.
There's a salesman brandishing a grubby suitcase stuffed with trinkets and toys, a man for whom the theft of a pair of pink furry bunny-ears by a business woman is not the jolly jape she imagines, but a lack of respect - and loss of income - for him. Dressed in a cheap black suit and no shirt, he exudes a cockroach-like toughness, eking out a low existence in the grime as he sets out kitsch wares before reluctant clients. In the end, even this hardened grafter succumbs to the soft power of love, and he falls for a studious young man. With an obvious horror of contamination and physical contact, this bespectacled student is seen clutching a book on Freud or reading his newspaper in a crowded carriage. He attempts vainly to preserve his personal space - comically marking it out with a plastic white bath mat - and, of course, the commuters stick to him like dirty bluebottles to flypaper.
There's a bunny-ear-thieving thirty-something female striding arrogantly through the underground bustle. Eventually, she marches straight into the brick wall of her own loneliness and, as she crumples to the ground, a stranger offers a helping hand. The gesture triggers the enactment of a dream-wedding complete with veil, organ music, congregation, and plumes of heart-shaped confetti. The woman's pain is exposed, although not to the sympathetic commuter who is oblivious of what he has engendered in her heart and mind simply by reaching for her hand. It is clear that without love, this attractive and affluent businesswoman has no meaning in her life, whilst impoverished misfits around her are at least enriched by the thrill of real emotional connections.
Jacques Lecoq-schooled English director Nydia Hethington works with an able French cast to produce a montage of modern life as glimpsed on an underground rail system. In Les Anges de l'Enfer, she achieves physical theatre that communicates with ease and moves from comedy to pathos without a jolt. The opening sequence demonstrates a sharp directorial eye and a charming playfulness, relating a dozen tales even though all that can be seen on stage are tootsies playing footsy. Red court shoes, Converse trainers, flip-flops and even bare feet cavort below a white sheet and signal every intention, action and reaction with clarity. Nydia Hetherington draws very strong characterisation from the performers as the Metro individuals described above, but the chorus/mask work needs a little more precision. Generally, the show lives up to her apparent vision, but there are one or two occasions when the content of scenes could be tightened and the quality of the performers' movement honed even further. There are a couple of slow areas – a scene where the cleaner stuffs discarded newspaper into his dungarees seems to last longer than necessary - but this does not seriously impair the overall quality of the piece.
A set comprising two cream canvas upstage blocks works perfectly, and the chic simplicity of the costumes' black-and-white colour scheme is livened up by judicious splashes of red. Recorded lambada music and sounds of the Metro blend well with the genuine urban sounds of traffic coming from outside the venue. It conjures up the constant activity with which city dwellers must make their peace or leave, and so does not detract.
The company's name, Head-Langue, seems to suggest a language of the imagination - head and tongue/language - as well as the quality of hurtling towards a target without obstruction. It couldn't be more exact. The piece aims to convey much without being held back by the inadequacy of words. Head-Langue Theatre feels like a soothing antidote to urban life, with an underlying possible message that human communication comes down to what is naked to the eye, and needs no words.
Cast Credits: (alpha order): Emmanuel Aubonnet - Toy Seller. Julie Bernard - Bag Lady. Alexendre Certain - Cleaner. Nydia Hetherington - Office Worker. Nicolas Rager - Frustrated Man.
Company Credits: Conceived by - Nydia Hetherington. Director - Nydia Hetherington. Stage Manager - Rachel Dupuis. Music - Sylvestre Balazard. Costumes - Benoite Micard. Lighting - uncredited. Technical Operator - uncredited. Company - Head-Langue Theatre. Company - uncredited.
(c) Tara Paulsson 2008
reviewed Tuesday 19 August 08 / Camden People's Theatre
Fringe Report (c) Fringe Report 2002-2013