Theatre review: Hocus Pocus, The Studio

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In the studio at Potterrow, the audience’s eyes are tightly focused on a dark stage featuring two horizontal white strips of light, a couple of metres long and an even smaller distance apart.

Hocus Pocus, The Studio (***)

Within this small, screen-shaped space, strange shapes begin to appear, like distant galaxies or strange sea anemones; then we gradually realise that we are seeing not screen images, but parts of the bodies of two men, bleached almost monochrome by the quality of the strip-light, and isolated in ways that make us look at the human body with completely fresh eyes – the shape of a forearm or foot, the rippling triangle of a well-muscled back, or the tops of two heads searching for one another in black space.

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This is the most interesting aspect of Hocus Pocus, the much-loved show by the Philippe Saire company of Switzerland that appeared briefly at The Studio this weekend; and it seemed to me to make a stronger impression as an almost abstract piece of movement theatre – albeit framed within a very small space, relative to the size of The Studio – than as the family show, with a light-touch adventure narrative driven by music from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, that it claims to be.

By the standards of modern children’s theatre, the narrative is neither very clear nor very interesting, although the children in the audience enjoyed the show’s few larger outside-the-frame visual effects involving an ocean of rippling cloth, and shiny streamers made to look like shoals of fish; and the final impression is of a show that makes some gestures towards family entertainment, but whose heart and soul lies elsewhere, in new perspectives on the male body, and on the dynamic relationship between two figures briefly caught in the light, beautifully captured here by dancers Mickael Henrotay-Delaunay and Ismael Oiartzabal.