EMOTIONAL TRUTH AT THE HEART OF SUCCESS
Members of Our Limbs
Presented by Kallo Collective
at BATS, Wellington
12 Dec 2010
Reviewed by John Smythe, 13 Dec 2010
We all have a clown within us; not just a child to be rediscovered in adult form but someone whose naivety, gullibility and susceptibility to strong and deep-felt emotions would come to the fore in idiosyncratic ways if certain controlling factors were subtracted from our learned strategies for survival.
This trio – two from Finland and one from New Zealand – have all discovered their personal clowns and honed their physical theatre skills at L'Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris (see the production page for more details of their already extensive and multi-disciplined careers).
Their Kallo Collective is based in the French Alps but now Thom Monkton, the Kiwi, has brought Jenni Kallo and Sampo Kurppa to NZ for a couple of months to further develop their inaugural show, Members of Our Limbs. It premiered as a work-in-progress at this year's Cirko Festival in Helsinki and will return there next year (May 2011) as a fully-fledged production ready for touring.
Many would consider this one-off hour-long showing at Bats to be complete and tour-ready, so it would be fascinating to see what more they bring to it by way of distilling what they already have and adding new material. Let's hope they give us – or audiences in Christchurch (where I gather they will be working) – a preview before they leave our shores.
Interesting title. It could be tautological (given ‘member' can mean ‘limb') and yes, the show is reasonably taut (some parts could be tighter) and certainly logical in clowning terms :o>. Or it could mean that in this wacky world, limbs are the controlling entity and the person attached to them has joined as a member, as they might a team or group.
Sampo's arms jut out to the elbows and his forearms grope the air as his legs stride out at odd angles, as if finding their ways through heavy mist. Thom's body parts have the capacity to move in isolation, in different directions, with apparent minds of their own. And Jenni flips the coin completely by being physically incapable of articulating herself about the space – requiring the men to lift, carry and place her in position – except with she dances.
(Note: They do not appear to have designated clown names, so I'll use their first names to refer to their clown personae.)
It's a non-verbal show, although some sequences involve English-language songs. Samo, with his straggly jawline beard and seriously blank expression, then Thom, whose hair looks electrically shocked and whose black-rimmed specs are held together with white tape, trolley their furniture, props and Jenni on stage. In repose, her eyes stare through huge round specs.
After much meticulous setting of a Turkish rug, just so, the trio suddenly animates to a very funky recording of ‘I Will Survive' and the show proper is under way. Thom brings clown logic to getting a domestic espresso machine to work, precipitating an inspired sequence with lighter-than-air rubbish bags that get batted about the auditorium by Samo and Thom while Jenni moves – at last – to Zorba's dance.
In setting up a café scene, Thom encounters a problem involving a chair, one arm and a tray. His solution creates a bigger problem which he manages to get out of with great comic ingenuity. Although it involves the oldest gag in the book – dropping his trousers – the way he gets them back up again earns him a well-deserved round of applause.
Now he waits upon Jenni and Sampo, whose romantic candle-lit sipping of pink wine degenerates into a guzzle-fest accompanied by Grieg's ‘Hall of the Mountain King'. Sampo gets to tidy up and, despite getting his fingers stuck in bottles, manages to reinstate order at last. This was the only sequence that I felt was still very much a work in progress,
Maybe roses will facilitate romance better … but of course this, too, goes awry. Once more Jenni become limbly challenged, provoking a physical sequence involving a great deal of trust on her part beneath her apparent passivity.
Miming to pre-recorded sound-effects is a minefield as the slighted mistiming obliterates the value of all you've got right so far. But they don't put a limb or digit wrong as they play out a funky duet on piano (Thom) and percussion (Sampo): a brilliantly executed sequence.
When Jenni intrudes with a vacuum cleaner, a sucked-up maraca, once retrieved, allows her to join in. Maybe that's not enough because she goes on to destroy the piano and drum kit in a gleeful orgy of violence against property – and people, when a mercifully mimed hand grenade is lobbed into the audience. Is this the result of her repression and subjugation?
The finale is a joyful affirmation, to ‘Ain't Got No/ I Got Life' and ‘Finiculi Finicula', as the trio cleverly contrive a rose-throwing tribute to their undoubted skills as entertainers.
It is the essence of emotional truth in ‘personal clowning' that is at the heart of this sort of physical theatre's success. The Kallo Collective excels in ensuring Members of Our Limbs is much more than a demonstration of skills.
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Jennifer Shennan (The Dominion Post);