Maison Foo are an experimental theatre company best known for their interactive street performances which usually involve a pair of intriguing characters roaming festivals and events. As performers they are truly engaging and really combine a fantastic mix of the obscure with comedy and fun. They are a company I have been lucky enough to see on many occasions in this context, often performing on the same bill with the SHRUG ladies or at local events and venues. Pendulums is their first major project for a theatre environment designed in a slightly more conventional ‘play’ format but with the intention of keeping that interactive and playful style they are renowned for.
I first saw a sample of this piece nearly a year ago after their first period of research and development. This was a very initial sharing of ideas where they presented just a few sample scenes, with a discussion and feedback session after. At this stage the piece already had some very serious key themes around commercialism, consumerist culture and child exploitation presented in a comical and clever way. The audience interaction elements were key to the piece, with much of the spoken text presented directed at the audience or singled out individuals. The design was on the surface quite simple utilising shop based elements such as a clothes stands and bags, but very clever and flexible with many elements transforming into alternative settings or objects. There was also a rather dramatic use of shadow puppetry demonstrating the ‘old woman from shoe’ giving birth. I thoroughly enjoyed this little teaser and was keen to see the finished performance. It went though considerable development and two separate funding applications to get to the finished piece, which I finally saw at the launch of their first tour at Lakeside Arts Centre in October 2014.
The finished piece encompassed much of what I love about theatre, it was abstract yet current, imaginative yet true, dark yet funny, entertaining yet thought provoking . It played with the audience giving a woven tapestry of ideas, stories, textures and moods. I was pleased to see that it had retained many elements of the audience interaction but as a seated theatre show it was at a level which avoided making the audience feel unconformable or to disturb the story.
The performances were compelling and every movement was deliberate and clearly rehearsed to perfection. Comic timing was great and in most cases well rounded characters came through even when the performers played different roles. The choreographed almost dance like elements were the most magical and combined clever props with interesting and often slightly bizarre gestures. A favourite moment was the creation of the village with the packing boxes and bags, these were cleverly moved and transformed, setting a magical fairy tale scene.
As a designer it was inspiring to see visual aesthetic which was so well imbedded into the performance. The highly creative and flexible set took on key characters and places. It provided wonder and intregue as simple objects were reused and transformed. Everything was inspired by the shop setting with the key elements being two highly polished movable counters and two packing trolleys. Both were used and explored to their maximum, for example the trolleys were used for everything from a cage to a market stall, cleverly enhanced with projection and utilised for their opening doors and wheeled bases.
Overall this was a fantastic piece of theatre which thoroughly inspired me in both design and performance. It was however very short, running at only 50minutes. As a main house show with a moderate ticket price it really needed to extend the 1 hour mark. I also felt that some of the audience interaction present in the work in progress sharing was a now a little diluted. This remains a highly polished and refined piece which sparked debate and left us as an audience with that wonderful mix of enjoyment and meaning.