Under the Influence at the Riverside Studios
By my reckoning, there are few British actors who could manage the feats of the Australian players from Legs on the Wall. Correction. There are few actors, period. Never mind the nationality.
Theirs is physical performance at its finest. That much is evident from the second you enter the auditorium to find the cast warming up in their leotards. They chat amiably to each other, ignoring the audience. Has it started, you wonder and whisper, afraid of appearing rude. You are never quite sure where exercise ends and performance begins. But ever so gradually, as muscles are limbered, the lights dim and the action segues into a stage version of the Smirnoff advert, overlaid with brief blasts of loud music and random observations from the characters.
Unlike the film equivalent, however, there are no big budget special effects to re-create the daredevil antics and thriller landscapes. Instead, a suspended bedspring, some aluminium siding, well-placed lights and the sheer brawn and precision of the performers carry the day.
That and Kate Champion's innovative concept and direction. The influence under which the characters - a seeming array though played by a cast of five - find themselves is no other than that nasty villain, romantic love. We encounter couples at all stages of meeting, greeting, making and breaking, falling in and out of love, patience and tolerance. The ups and downs of their relationships are mirrored in their movements - a sort of encyclopaedic example of the adage 'actions speak louder than words.' Not that some of the word gags aren't inventive, most notably in the Cinderella-interrogated and dance floor scenes.
Overall, the effect is a kind of cross between Cirque du Soleil and Caryl Churchill - breathtaking acrobatics, surreal vignettes spun out at a lightning pace and generous measures of both black humour and poignancy. Intelligent, thought-provoking and visually captivating at the same time. An arresting dramatic mix.
Under the Influence continues at the Riverside Studios until 26 September 1998.