'Fragments de Vie' - Théâtre Tête de Pioche
Roundhouse Studio Theatre, London International Mime Festival
After a tantalising peek at Christine Saint-André's beautiful static installations in the anti-chamber, we leave our coats, bags and are shoeless and penniless as we enter the inner sanctum.
It feels like a cathedral to creativity, the intense shrine-like installations arranged in a circle around the audience. We are guided into position by midwife-alchemists white robes and face masks (puppeteers Jo Smith and Mathilde Henry). On cushions in the centre of a low-tech train track, necks crane and bottoms shuffle to inspect the mini tableaux all around.
The scenes of figures and contraptions, displayed on rough wooden crates, comprise ancient farm apparatus, rusted and worn from year-upon-year of repetitive use, with puppet-faces peeping from the holes where the wooden handles were once fixed. The faces give the tools a new life, but the shadow of work remains and imbues the work-weary figures with a pathos that is rugged, delicate and elemental.
A powerfully intense fire ritual starts the proceedings, performed by a wise-woman/hag puppet. Alchemical and precise, it seems to be calling all the puppets to life. The vital elements of fire, water, earth, wood and metal are powerfully employed in the cycles of everyday life as the tableaux magically awaken. Meanings layer on top of one another like grains of sand, creating fleeting memories and associations as we witness these short hard lives lived out.
As Fragments de Vie draws to a close I feel I have been under a spell – were the puppet souls evoked to inhabit the ancient tool's bodies, or was it the lives and memories of the broken old instruments that pervaded to give the puppets life? Perhaps both, or neither. Either way Fragments de Vie is a magical, powerful piece of object theatre.