I’m Just A Love Machine – Review of Arbonaut’s The Desire Machine

The Desire Machine, The Brunel Tunnel Shaft
3.5 Stars

Arbonauts are a theatre company who merge dance, theatre and installation to create “site-based performance.” Their unique and creative shows sell out year after year and so it’s taken me a while to get to attend one – finally my number came up with their Summer 2015 show, The Desire Machine.

The performance takes place in the original (and now mainly uninhabited) entrance hall to Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames and the show is described by Arbonauts as “a 360 degree live installation combining a unique style of unusual performance with an intense soundscape, plunging audiences into a hallucinatory world where figures and voices blend and echo for a thrilling, voyeuristic encounter.”

The performance certainly lives up to it’s description, particularly with regards to the 360 degree element. Atmosphere is everything in this production and you are indeed fully immersed in the installation. It’s dark and a bit cool in the tunnel and the space creates a perfect area for the Desire Machine to sit in. The machine is a cylindrical base in the centre of the room with geometric balancing points and ropes on which the performers can move and bend their bodies to create the machine. The audience stand around the machine and settle into the darkness for a show largely presented in black and white images.

The machine spins and moves about and, when lit, is this sole illuminated point in the room. Much is done in the shadows and behind loose mesh screens. Sound is emitted (rather loudly) in the background which inspires and alludes to the overall unsettling futuristic overtones. An eerie yet confident voiceover provides further support for this.

The performance itself is certainly unique. The actors and acrobats display a considerable amount of strength as they clamber over the machine – they are in many ways the cogs and bolts that bring the so-called Desire Machine to life. Some actors move inside the cylinder to bring to life the stages of desire. There is a stunning pas de deux, which is wonderfully choreographed to match the spinning of the cylinder – but the highlight for me was watching a rather muscular woman take on an animal persona as she moved across the stage on her haunches, pawing towards her target and allowing a thoughtfulness to pulse through her motions to show her thought process evolving as she got closer and closer in strategy to reaching her goal.

Where I struggled slightly with the performance is with taking in the full meaning of it. This is quite top level artistic thinking, and some of it may have been over my head. That’s not to say it’s not good – it is, and scenes of it are certainly beautiful – but I can’t truthfully say I grasped the full concept of the machine.

There’s a tremendous amount of spectacle on show, and what I am certain that I understood is that the Desire Machine brought to life an engaging and intriguing black and white canvas of eye catching movement and athletics. It timed in under the hour we were expecting, but the duration of the performance was absolutely beautiful to watch.

The show has now finished it’s run, but information on Arbonauts can be found here.


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