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Review: Toujours et Près de Moi (Assembly Roxy)

Erratica creates a wordless opera with the help of Victorian holograms

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Toujours et Près de Moi
© Richard Hubert Smith

The marvel of Pepper's Ghost lies, in part, in its age. That the Victorians had holograms of sorts flips one's sense of history on its head. As early as 1862, John Henry Pepper was summoning apparitions out of thin air – and all with a few candles and a well-angled mirror. Its existence is as intriguing as its effect.

Erratica's wordless opera brings the technique into the present. Instead of real objects, tucked out of sight, it bounces projected images into empty space – two tricks of the light in one. On a bare table top behind a clear tilted screen, tiny people appear as if from nothing, shimmering and translucent, almost real enough to touch. Watching them is like watching fairies.

A man and a woman – middle-aged, a couple perhaps, or maybe old exes – look on at their younger selves; reflections of them in more ways than one. They tip their old memories out of two wooden boxes: two young lovers chasing each other around. They dart in and out of the dark, peeping over the edges or peering round corners. Naked, they feel all too corporeal. Every footstep, every fall, every knock on a box makes a little sound.

Translated as And Always Close To Me, Toujours et Près de Moi isn't merely a reflection on memory, but on the things that we keep locked away. A third woman appears, splitting the couple apart, and, as muffled playground laughter ripples around, there's a hint of a child that never came to bear. These are the histories that we all carry round with us, events that both shape us and scar us. Pepper's Ghost makes them both present and absent at once.

It's exquisitely done, enchanting to watch. Even though Patrick Eakin Young's piece reveals the magic's mechanics – the original projections are visible on the floor – you sink into the silent action as it plays out. Scale makes it seem painterly, detail makes it feel real, and the figures feel almost like stringless puppets – only capable of doing things no puppet ever could. They dance, entwine, bleed and emote. Ross Flight's intricate sound design sells the illusion wholesale and the operatic score – a mix of new compositions and old – carries the emotions even if the exact narrative's not always clear.

Toujours et Près de Moi runs at Assembly Roxy at 3pm.

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