Fuerzabruta – “Brute Force” – is a show you simply can’t argue with. It is an event of such staggering non-complexity and physical beauty that you are reduced to a state of gibbering wonder and relief when it’s all over – after just 70 minutes.
Yes, folks, the Round House in Chalk Farm is herself again. Or, rather, after a £30 million facelift and re-build, the re-named Roundhouse is up and running as the most exciting venue in London, and spiritual hippies of all ages can once more gather in its precincts and go one step beyond.
The show takes up where its head-banging Argentinian predecessor, De La Guarda, which stormed this space five years ago, left off. A man is running for his life through disintegrating walls and keeps running even when shot in the back and spouting blood.
There you have it, a perfect statement of emotional defiance and survival, the very spirit of the theatre expressed in a flash, in a moment, in a nightmare. For all 12 performers are somehow trapped in space while liberated in expression. Thus a theatrical event assumes the significance of the human condition. And nobody says anything!
Figures, like insects, are seen writhing around in a water tank. A huge glass pool starts to descend and we can see other creatures, swimming like embryos, or goldfish, or refugees from Dante’s inferno, speaking to us in their flailing gestures, spraying us gently with the liquid overspill.
How all this is created I cannot imagine. We have entered a different universe that nonetheless corresponds to our own. I don’t know what you do with tin foil. Personally, I use it to wrap up my cheese and keep it fresh in the fridge. These guys have built a vertical wall of tin foil that they clamber up, swing from, rotate around and dance along like madcap circus performers in a lunatic Hollywood musical.
The greatest theatre is always a celebration of the audience. We get fleeting glimpses of this phenomenon from night to night, but rarely, as we do here, a full-on manifesto of why people should gather together in the pleasures of spectacle and common humanity.
Rough, raw, disturbing and unforgettable, Fuerzabruta is the perfect statement of intent in a reborn venue which is such a pleasure to contemplate. The Roundhouse was built in London brick 160 years ago as a railway shed. Subsequently, it has served as a liquor store – the first theatre to arrange interval drinks well in advance of any performance – Arnold Wesker’s idealistic Centre 42, the home of the nude revue Oh! Calcutta! (the title was a French hymn to the female posterior, “Oh, quel cul t’as”; on the first night I sent a friend in the cast a telegram wishing him a warm hand on his opening), the scene of great insurgencies by the Living Theatre, Ariane Mnouchkine’s revolutionary 1789, the Doors’ only London concert (at least the supermarket next door is mindful, as it is has morphed from Safeways to Morrison’s), Peter Brook’s Les Iks, Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet, Vanessa Redgrave’s Lady from the Sea.
All such elemental productions are summarised in Fuerzabruta in a new dawn made possible by Torquil Norman, founder of Bluebird Toys, who purchased the place for £6.5 million from Camden Council in 1986 as an extension of his charity for young people. Now that his dream has come true, and the workshops and facilities are enriching the capital’s daily life, he only has one real problem. How on earth does he follow Fuerzabruta? The show must go on, but how can it?
- Michael Coveney