Review Round-up: Are Khan & Binoche in Favour?
Binoche, who makes her dance debut in the piece, has been in training for two years in preparation. The piece also marks a first for Khan, who acts, sings and plays guitar on stage for the first time, in addition to dancing. Binoche and Khan are the sole performers in in-i, which has a set designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and an original score composed by cellist Philip Sheppard.
It runs in rep at the NT Olivier until 9 October ahead of an international tour, which will see it return to the UK in 2009 for three days only (5 to 7 February) at the new Leicester Curve venue (See News, 2 Sep 2008).
in-i received a mixed bag of critical reaction. Detractors highlighted the “navel-gazing” approach of Khan and Binoche, many seeing it as a “vanity project”. Binoche’s newly-learnt dance skills polarised opinion, with some praising her “remarkable stamina”, providing a “gentle contrast” to Khan’s “contained whirlwind”. However, for others it was Anish Kapoor’s “deceptively simple set” that was the show-stealer - the “most expressive thing on the stage”, according to one critic.
- Sarah Crompton in the Daily Telegraph – “Dancers have the ability to express thought and emotion through precise movement. Juliette Binoche simply cannot do that. She looks exactly what she is; an attractive woman who has spent some six months in intensive dance training … As a setting, the artist Anish Kapoor has provided a great oblong slab of wall, which changes colour from hot reds, to bright oranges, to vivid purples, yellows and greens. Lit by Michael Hulls\' magnificent lighting, it moves slowly forward as the piece progresses and is, in many ways, the most expressive thing on the stage. In front of it, to a score by Philip Sheppard, Binoche and Khan enact in words, movement and a few snatches of song, scenes from love affairs … The clue to the problem lies on the front of the programme. ‘Co-directed and performed by Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan.’ They have formed their own self-congratulatory circle. But in letting them stage this vanity project at the National Theatre, dance lover Nicholas Hytner has done neither dance nor theatre any favours.”
- Donald Hutera in The Times (two stars) – “As monumental vanity projects go, this one is surprisingly absorbing. It is also intermittently excruciating … This flimsy, navel-gazing show, like their onstage relationship, proceeds bumpily. Binoche expresses ironic disillusionment by singing snatches of ‘The Man I Love’ during a tango. Eventually she and Khan, a bottled-up brute, argue in an overblown, quasi-therapeutic fashion. Their pained - and painful to hear - banalities remind you why playwrights exist … Khan is plainly pushing his abilities here, but the bigger stretch may be Binoche\'s. She is not known for her dancing, and yet she more than holds her own alongside the muscular, contained whirlwind that Khan becomes when in motion … The roughly intimate, visceral drama of their duets compensates for another of the evening\'s partial embarrassments, a monologue by Binoche about abuse that sounds and feels undigested, unshaped. When she shuts up and gets physical, she rocks.”
- Zoë Anderson in the Independent (two stars) – “Binoche spends much of in-i being a clingy ditz or a victim. Khan is grumpy or violently aggressive. Neither gets anywhere near the emotion that might drive such behaviour … Physically, she and Khan make an interesting match, close in height but different in style. She doesn\'t have his speed or precision, but her softer movements are grounded and easy, a gentle contrast to his extremes. In a tango, they\'re both slightly tentative, getting to know each other and the dance … Binoche\'s remembered anger involves a jealous boyfriend trying to strangle her. She dangles against the wall of the set, croaking out objections. When Khan lets go, she\'s left dangling, hung on concealed hooks. The idea of these scenes is always obvious. That wall is the best thing in in-i. Anish Kapoor\'s set design is simple and astonishingly beautiful.”
- Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “Binoche is an unexpectedly able mover. Although not a trained dancer, she has a nimble, bendy bod, and remarkable stamina for a 40-something mother of two. She is also unstarry, with no make-up and a costume best described as bedsit chic. Khan also surprises, performing with all his stunning charisma but playing against type as a man poleaxed with sorrow … in-i is not Khan\'s best work. Its dramatic arc is too speedy, taking us from happy to distraught in about two minutes. Another problem is that Khan is too angsty for too long, and there are some jarring theatrics for a minimal set (by Anish Kapoor). There\'s also what I call the Curse Of Plenty. The National has so many resources it can\'t resist throwing everything at a production that needs only the charisma of its performers. With less largesse, and some emotional and theatrical remodelling, in-i would better convey the maddening misunderstandings of love.”
- Judith Mackrell in the Guardian (two stars) – “The opening scene sets the bar high. Anish Kapoor\'s set, a solid but movable screen, is lit to suggest the flickering interior of a cinema, and Binoche is in character as a teenage girl, fantasising rashly about a man sitting nearby. Khan, the object of her desire, dances a riveting solo, at times liquid and spinning, at times remote and still … Details are striking, yet each scene is dragged out too long, with phrases of both dance and text repeated to diminishing effect, and after a while the performers\' lack of experience in certain areas starts to matter … There is no question that Khan and Binoche are fascinating together as they venture into new terrain. But when the novelty fades, there is also no disguising the fact that this is a 30-minute piece extended far beyond its natural length.”
- by Theo Bosanquet