Heart-stopping. Hand-clenching. Nail-biting. These are but a few ways to describe one of the most intimate and individual displays of human strength and emotion within ‘Landscape with Monsters’.
The performance, divided into several parts, used both intensity and slapstick comedy to encapsulate human emotion. Most of the show was performed in wooden boxes, with transitions between scenes appearing part of the routine. The show was also performed without dialogue, illustrating how powerful facial expressions and movement can be to tell a story. And the intricate moulding of bodies told a powerful story, the performance both playful and shocking.
With intense facial expressions, the contortion of angular bodies in a pure, almost supernatural way, the lack of special effects and ingenious use of lighting made the performers seem to fly across the stage, defying the laws of gravity in a bizarre, inhuman way. Human pyramids. Entwined limbs. Bodies thrown in the air. Dualities of light and dark. Stillness and movement. This, set to a combination of gut-wrenching Hitchcock-esque music and dark ambient sounds made perfect use of the stage, transporting viewers into another world.
The use of music itself was clever. Sudden changes from 'Matrix'-style music during acrobatic movements to haunting classical during ballet movements felt perfectly natural, illustrating how monstrous the human body can become. While many likely assume ballet is a beautiful reflection of the human body, the display of en pointe was almost grotesque, however the spine-chilling Hitchcock sounds mixed with the familiar melodies of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel enhanced the performance.
Image © Damien Bredberg
Several scenes felt straight from a Vaudeville show, with the use of mime and physicality to reflect verve ardour in a light-hearted fashion. The performance used this unique storytelling and aspects of slapstick comedy – including clever use of shadow reminiscent of 'Peter Pan' – to demonstrate all the intricacies of human emotion, drawing gasps and wide-mouthed shock from the audience. While the use of boxes as props worked extremely well, the introduction of the ladder took the performance down a notch, as it could have been used in more ways than it was. However, seeing a performer balance on the 20-foot steel ladder with one hand was impressive, especially the sequence in which two performers precariously balance the ladder over another performer’s head.
The boxes themselves were as striking as the performers. Several performers displayed astonishing feats of enterology, contorting their bodies to cram themselves inside the boxes, showing inhuman flexibility and intense strength as they held themselves up using only their heads, feet and even one hand. Several male performers exceeded expectations during the acrobatic sets, throwing female performers into the air with their feet while balancing on a see-saw with one hand. Incredibly, many female performers balanced male performers on their backs while flipping through the air in a showcase of agility and strength.
Most impressive was the seemingly magical aspects of the show, where several performers appeared to vanish from the boxes into thin air. These technical aspects were a highlight, using the props, human strength and contortion far beyond audience expectation.
‘Landscape With Monsters’ was a truly fantastical phantasmagorical roller-coaster ride and one of the best showcases of physical performance around. Note to viewers: don’t try any of the stunts at home!
'Landscape With Monsters' Tour Dates6-9 September – Canberra Theatre Centre
14 September – Orange Civic Theatre
21 September – Griffith Regional Theatre
23 September – Illawarra Performing Arts Centre