Reviewer: Helen Jones
The BE (Birmingham European) Festival developed in 2010 from the cultural mix in the arts scene in Birmingham and its exchange with counterparts in Europe. Each year three of the ‘best’ acts of the Festival do a month-long tour of the UK and it arrived at The Lowry this week. The three performances out on tour this year are Take Care Of Yourself, Someone Loves You Drive With Care and Control Freak. Each performance is around 30 minutes long.
First up is Take Care Of Yourself featuring Swiss daredevil and circus performer Marc Oosterhoff. Opening with a trick involving whisky shots and the ability to aim – the initial impression is of a good mime artist who is physically adept. Unfortunately, the tricks become more about courting danger than entertainment. Balancing over knives and the knife/hand routine are nothing new and are not fun to watch. Admittedly some will enjoy the anticipation of harm and risk involved but this reviewer doesn’t get her thrills like that and was exceedingly grateful for being shortsighted and able to remove glasses. Oosterhoff is undoubtedly a skilled performer but the performance is limited in its appeal.
Second was British performer Tom Cassani in Someone Loves You Drive With Care. Billed as a performance artist, illusionist and professional liar, the piece was supposed to question the collective construction of truth and lies. Instead in parts he purposely seemed to cause himself pain and spent large sections of time spouting a mix of true and false statements. But there was no cohesion and very little enjoyable material in the performance. It was also incredibly slow and the 30 minute duration felt a lot longer.
After the interval, in which the audience was served vegetarian chilli, the third act of the night was Kulu Orr in Control Freak. Much to this reviewer’s relief, this was a show which didn’t rely on pain or danger. Instead, Kulu Orr controlled all the sound and lighting in the studio from buttons and pressure pads on his hoodie. Building up levels of rhythm and sound using various technologies and some juggling balls, he created amazing soundtracks which were complex and beautiful to listen to. Gently and humorously nerdy, he exercised his ‘control’ of a very willing audience and more complex control of four volunteer helpers. He then changed into a suit which allowed him to edit the video showing as he wished so that sounds on the short films were used together to create the backing track for his version of Feelin’ Good. There was an additional surprise built into the suit which took the performance to another level again. Kulu Orr’s Control Freak is hugely fun, highly entertaining and a testament to some phenomenal engineering and programming skills used by a brilliant musician. This could easily be a whole evening’s entertainment by itself.
Overall the Best of the BE Festival was disappointing and there were noticeable audience gaps for the last act as people had not returned. However, the evening was worth it for the sheer brilliance of Kulu Orr.
Reviewed: 27 March 2019