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Creepy, mannequin-tastic exploration of the human body from Shunt co-founders Louise Mari and Nigel Barrett
My heartbeat slowed in relaxation, lulled into calm by visual meditations on the human body in a room filled with dolls. Then quickened, as I realised that the suspiciously heavy plastic baby I'd been given to hold had a throbbing heartbeat of its own. Shunt co-founders Louise Mari and Nigel Barrett's new performance isn't just in uncanny valley: it's built a haunted house there and is busy making the surrounding hills ring with its riffs on the body's organs.
But although this show focuses its considerable ingenuity on human biology, there's no coherent central thesis. Instead, it's a rag-tag sack of visual essays on different body parts, introduced and accompanied by projected titles and images on a huge screen. The result is as high-tech, messy, and impenetrable as the maddest scientist's lab.
Mari and Barrett made their name producing work on the boundaries between theatre and live art, and this piece is no exception. Between scenes, the projector screen rolls up to reveal a shadowy space at the back of the stage inhabited by fantastically creepy, shifting installations of mannequins and dolls. The performers, Barrett and Jess Latowicki, explore each others' bodies using cameras in super high res detail, or set hearts racing with a frantic dance. But their considerable charisma is hamstrung by dialogue that's largely borrowed from the retro talking dolls they share the stage with: 'Will you play with me?' or 'I love you!'. And the impact of the repeated phrases is limited by the fact that when they move beyond them, they move to another kind of cliche: a birthday party, or a description of a plane crash.
The audience are wired up to heart monitors, but whatever they discover is incidental to the show's rhythm. It's typical of a performance that offers plenty to get the pulse racing, but never coagulates into a heartstopping whole.