Right in the Eye, French Institute (Venue 168) * * * *
In this delightful show, pianist, composer and stage designer Jean-François Alcoléa and his crew recapture the sheer manic daftness of Méliès’s inventive genius, as well as its lingering wonder.
Alcoléa himself plays keyboards, a dismembered piano sounding board and assorted found percussion, Hervé Joubert and Guillaume Habrias add further percussion, keyboards and other novel effects, while Noémie Mancia controls light and video.
Right in the Eye may take its title from Méliès’s best known image – that of a Jules Verne-style projectile socking it to the Man in the Moon, and that sequence crops up, but the man now known as the father of sci-fi cinema devised much more.
Following some initial technical hiccups – appropriate, perhaps, for an evocation of early cinema – we were treated to a world of baroquely contrived adventures and nightmares – The Kingdom of Fairies, for instance, a sort of gothic panto, with hefty imps carrying off a similarly strapping damsel who is rescued after undersea adventures, complete with helpful whale; or The Impossible Voyage, with its airborne train and ridiculously accident-prone passengers swallowed – literally – by the Sun.
Elsewhere we witness a hilariously bizarre wrestling match, while Méliès uses a bellows to inflate his own head until it bursts. There are ambitiously crafted sets and backdrops, although you feel the old stage illusionist is never very far away.
It may seem wonderfully quaint to us – although, partly due to the capricious soundscapes generated by Alcoléa and company, a certain magic remains – but they must have utterly astounded the audiences of Belle Époque Paris.
Until 25 August