Expiry Date (Barbican Centre)

Belgian company Babafish present this look at time running out as part of the London International Mime Festival

© Sophie Glossin

Things fall apart in this idiosyncratic piece by Belgian company Babafish. Everything ends in the end. Everything disintegrates. Relationships. Parties. Nights out. People. Everything has a half life.

On a stage filled with dominos, all lined up and ready to topple, an old man (Jef Stevens) picks his path gingerly. The moment the first one falls, there’s no stopping the rest: a chain reaction kicks in and so winds its way to its inevitable conclusion. Dominos clacker into one another. Marbles roll down metal runs. Sand starts to pile up and water containers slowly fill. Anna and Jan Nilsson have created a giant Heath Robinson device, designed only to reach an ending. Once it gets going, the old man only has a certain amount of time until his light goes out.

Expiry Date is, in some ways, a life that flashes before his eyes. The stage becomes a swirl of memories, all strange and distorted. A younger man nimbly takes his place. A bride seems to split in two. Placing her hands on her head, she somehow prises it in half – and peels herself into his first and second wives. Their dances become competitive. Their parties turn into tantrums. Their nights out dissolve into legless disarray. Nothing lasts forever.

This is not the wistful sigh one might expect; not simply an elegant expression of mortality. It’s more damning than that, almost a critique of our self-destructive tendencies; the petulance that turns things sour, the boredom that gives up and walks away. Eventually somebody kicks something over and the domino chain runs off again, on and on to its ending. If it stands for our individual lives, why not for the world: politics or economics. Nothing we build stays standing for ever.

Nor would we want it to. The moment we see them, we’re waiting for – no, willing – the dominos to topple. Once they do, of course, there’s an air of anti-climax, even regret. There’s risk onstage too: the precariousness of this stage structure, whereby the slightest misstep or glitch brings the show to a standstill.

Even so, anti-climax can creep into let-down and, increasingly, boredom. The show’s metaphor is in its framework and individual circus routines – Luis Sartori Do Vale’s juggling and Laura Laboureur’s contortion – feel tacked on, not expressive or essential. Individual images are interesting, but once we’ve grasped the wider point, all the dominos in the world can’t keep this from collapsing.

Expiry Date runs at the Barbican Centre until 23 January.