Theatre Review: Hans was Heiri (Barbican Centre)

The cast of 'Hans was Heiri'. Photograph: Courtesy of Zimmermann & de Perrot.

The cast of ‘Hans was Heiri’. Photograph: Courtesy of Zimmermann & de Perrot.

Rating: *****

As part of the London International Mime Festival, theatre group Zimmermann & de Perrot bring their piece of physical absurdist theatre to the Barbican Centre.

What is it about? Beats me if I ever figured it out. But then its absuridsm and is not necessarily supposed to make sense. There are, however, a few sketches with definite narratives; a manic yoga instructor, and a romantic pas de deux between a clown and well-to-do fashionista to name but two. Yet these are completely stand-alone for the mere moment that they happen and overall there’s no story, just a bevy of nonsense.

The main hook of the show is its exploration of physical movement and aesthetics as they create some mind-boggling and death-defying sights among an astonishing and ingenious set. It looks simple and bleak, a clutter of black painted structures and bits of pine wood, but it brims with dizzying complexity and many surprises. At its heart is the focus that all the promotional material has been teasing us with, a large house that just can’t stop spinning. Occupants are tossed about whilst others somehow both physics and the whims of the errant structure to find gravity where they want it. The result is something truly mind-boggling.

One of the main things that can go wrong with this type of show is that it looses pace and becomes too dry too quickly. But the energy of the show changes plenty of times and is varied enough to keep you engaged, and confused, without ever getting bored. There is also a good does of humour to keep things light which helps, but these are also balanced with some incredibly sinister moments keeping it from being too silly – a touch of murder here, and a spot of sexual violence there. Futhermore, the company never set all their fireworks off at once and each individual performer’s superb physical abilities are feed through to us in measured bursts. Such unforgettable moments include a man trying to sit on a stool that does not want to be sat on, and the aforementioned pas de deux. For the entire 90 minutes you are kept constantly astonished. And if you do ever tire it’s simply down to personal stamina. As amazing as it is to watch it’s actually quite taxing, especially in moments when there’s so much going on on-stage at points that you simply cannot take everything in.

Dimitri de Perrot’s live DJ-ing also adds just as surreal an audio dimension to what’s happening visually. A skilful live mix of music and sound effects that add energy and colour to the black and pine set, adding motion and drive to the cast’s shenanigans. It’s a masterclass in live and interactive electronic music and sampling if there ever was one. Less wub-wub, more wow-wow.

Something like this is hard to write about without going into an essay because there’s so much brilliant technical theatrics involved. Not to mention I’m still a little bit too stunned, even two days on, to really gather my thoughts together after such a glorious mind-fuck. Needless to say it’s a supreme antidote to reality. It’s as if M.C. Escher took a heap of drugs and headed off to a funfair. Undoubtedly one of the most unique and fantastic things I’ve ever witnessed. Generation WTF doesn’t know what’s hit it!

Hans was Heiri was performed as part of the London International Mime Festival at the Barbican Centre between 23-26 January 2013.

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