Whist – Sadler’s Wells, London

Creators: Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi

Reviewer: Lucy Lambert

Dance company AOE have created an hour-long virtual reality experience inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud and artist Shuji Terayama, in which audience members move through a gallery space, watching a series of films that explore elements of Freudian psychology.

In the ruins of a grand house, three performers (Robert Hayden, Yen-Ching Lin and Tomislav English) act out a series of hellish Freudian scenarios. In one the female performer (Yen-Ching Lin) writhes around on the floor, presenting a demonic vision of female sexuality. In another she tries to force a man to perform oral sex on her and chases him around a library before pulling his trousers down; nightmare scenarios drawn firmly from a male perspective.

The films are riffs on Freud, but the production does nothing to explore its central ideas in any detail. Freud is a controversial figure in the 21stcentury; both lauded as the father of psychoanalysis and derided for his outlandish practices and some of his more bonkers theories, particularly his thoughts on women. A theatre piece exploring what his work means to us now through contemporary performance practices is timely and exciting. However, and in spite of its modern tech, this production is simply not interested in digging beneath the surface of the ideas it presents. Its interpretation is this: the unconscious is spooky.

The result is a vision of the Freudian mind that feels distinctly old-fashioned and at times, puerile. A man keeps turning up in his pants wearing a giraffe mask and peering at us ominously. Tried and tested imagery from horror films feature heavily; a creepy house, lots of sinister glaring, a bloody feast of animal innards and so on. Its one-note tone of mild horror cannot sustain itself for an hour, and passes through absurdity before ending up tiresome.

Whist draws a strong connection between the unconscious and traditional male fears. But for all its ambition in production (the final sequence is an eye-wateringly long credits list) it is distinctly unambitious in its unravelling of psychology for a modern audience.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Distinctly Unambitious

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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