Shadowland (Peacock Theatre)
This innovative mix of shadow theatre, dance and circus proves irresistible
I watched Shadowland like an alien might their first IMAX film – in a state of childlike fixation.
I just didn't know bodies could do that. Many will already have seen this shadow-dancing troupe in a viral video from a few years back, set to Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", but the effect in the flesh is incomparable.
For 90 minutes, aided by little more than a light and some basics props, the 12 dancers of the Pilobolus company summon worlds in silhouette.
Entire cityscapes and a cast of hundreds are conjured in a dream-like jaunt of imagination. Giant heads rise from the ground, shockingly realistic elephants coalesce then melt away and godlike figures sweep in from above.
The story, a wide-eyed voyage of discovery through its ever-changing world, quickly builds up its own logic and ways of communication. Wordlessly, it is always entirely clear what is going on.
Anchoring us to the action is a young girl (Lauren Yalango), an almost-constant figure who is sucked into the world of Shadowland in the opening, and discovers its shady menagerie as we do.
It is no surprise to read that one of the lead writers worked on SpongeBob SquarePants – the show's inventiveness, humour and disregard for conventional physics draws on the best cartoons. This is certainly one for the kids, if you have them.
Indeed, the piece's great strength is the childish joy it takes in its own creative powers. Shadows on a canvas allow for marvellous tricks of perspective, and as the show progresses the dancers twist themselves into ever-more-elaborate images using several bodies (and what handsome, muscular bodies they are) at once, seemingly just for fun.
It is endlessly clever but, as anybody who has made a crude bunny rabbit using their fist and a torch will appreciate, it is just about possible to work out how they are doing it.
An undeniable spectacle, Shadowland resists easy description. Just as the show was wordless, so too were the responses - though even the dimmest viewer can probably work out what five minutes of solid applause at the curtain-call means.
Shadowland continues at the Peacock until 30 March