There are two disconcerting things that happen to you when you arrive to watch The Body. The first is that you are connected to a heart monitor. The second is that you are handed a baby to cradle.
It’s not a real baby – it’s a doll – although when performer and co-creator Nigel Barrett first brings it onstage and smiles contentedly at its sleeping face, it certainly looks exactly like one. Warning: if you have anything close to pediophobia (fear of dolls) I’d give this show a wide berth.
This year’s winners of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award are Shunt artists Louise Mari and Barrett who have created The Body. It’s a playful piece merging live art and live performance, which tries to involve the audience in its often unfocused musings on our bodies – what they mean to us, how we use them and how they make us who we are.
A sound-muffled, womb-like room has been created with space for 16 audience members to watch as Barrett and performer Jess Latowicki come in and out of rotating doors, to perform surreal sections of dialogue and movement. At one point they dance to psychedelic moving patterns on the wall; vast, close-up videos of eyes are projected onto the back of the stage and the two of them use a camera to zoom in on their skin, hair and noses. Loud music makes our hearts beat faster, weird dolls with moving faces talk about secrets. Occasionally it is charmingly silly.
Visually and sensually, The Body has its moments. Watching the dolls is uncomfortable, because most of them look as though they may be about to speak. We’re often reminded that being human means having both body and consciousness. Without both working together, we’re not much more than the spooky manikins that swamp the stage.
But as a piece of theatre it’s too fractured, too disparate and too incoherent. We’re only partially drawn into the world of the show – disappointingly, nothing much happens with the fact that our heart beat is being monitored. There are flashes of poetry here, but not enough. The Body is like a little bundle of synapses and nerves pulsing in isolation that never reach their destination, and what, ultimately, the point in that?
The Body runs at the Barbican Theatre until 29 November