Home Theatre, Manchester; Saturday 8th July 2017
On the final night of Manchester’s Flare Festival of new international theatre, Belgian director Bosse Provoost briefly appeared in the foyer of Home Theatre and introduced himself to the gathered audience waiting to take their seats. He politely asked everyone to turn their mobile phones off and warned that the entire performance would be delivered in the dark.
He wasn’t exaggerating. It really was dark, very, very dark, it took the best part of five minutes for everyone to stumble their way in and find a seat without falling over each other. This simple task was made all the more difficult by the presence of the alarming spectacle on stage: what appeared to be a human body sat upright, all curled up with only the spine and back exposed, lit up with the only light in the room: a small flickering candle.
The scene was surprisingly disturbing, unnerving – like something from a psychological horror film. This thing had the appearance of a human body, but then it was motionless and unusually contorted, like an indeterminate hunk of meat. The horror got worse: several minutes of very uncomfortable and dark silence were allowed to pass before the act truly began, enough time for the eyes to slowly adjust and reveal the ghostly details of what on any other day would have been the irrelevant walls and ceiling of the theatre. Depriving the human mind of two of its five senses got the brain working overtime to make up for missing information; every little sniffle, cough or whisper in the audience focussed unwelcome attention onto the gathered crowd, this thing on stage was waiting to start the show and it didn’t seem like a good idea to make it wait.
Eventually there was movement, but still only illuminated by the woefully inadequate flickering candle. The result was stunning. The super slow motion fluidity of performer Kobe Chielens caused huge confusion in the mind, worsened by the frustrating lack of light: was he stretching an arm or a leg, are we looking at a man or a woman, is this thing stood up or sat down? His face was never revealed, in fact no part of his head was ever visible, just the torso and occasionally some limbs. We even got a shocking full frontal view of his naked genitalia as he lay with his legs provocatively spread out for everyone to see. But even that visual spectacle seemed horrific in the dim light, the details of his private parts spoiling the hitherto acceptable and familiar curves of muscle, flesh and joints.
In a performance full of striking visual effects, the finest came from the huge but very faint shadows being cast onto the curtain at the back of the stage: hideous three-legged spider-like monsters seemed to loom out of the darkness, and when Chielens shuffled forward, away from his candle, he disappeared from sight completely, leaving just the terrifying noise of some sort of creature rolling around on stage, there was no way to tell where he was and it genuinely felt as if he’d be launching himself at the front row of the audience and there wasn’t a single thing anyone could do about it, other than cringe in your seat and hope it wouldn’t happen to you.
The horror was eventually bought to an end when the light levels were slowly raised, but that only served to reveal a shocking twist in the tale of the thing on stage. There was a genuine stunned silence and sense of awe as the entire audience came back into the real world and saw with their own eyes that it was just a stage in a theatre, not some hideous platform of mental torture.
Said to have been inspired by the works of British artists Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, Provoost’s Moore Bacon! is an incredibly simple yet stunningly effective piece of performance art. Provoost and Chielens made it look so simple, and that’s because it was. Without any doubt, this is the crowning masterpiece of the 2017 Flare Festival.