As part of Manipulate 2015, the Traverse hosts this intriguing, bizarre and enjoyably off-the-wall double bill. Firstly, Paper Doll Militia present their skillfully assured aerial performance, Unchained, followed by CEC’s wild and wacky take on the Tristan and Isolde tragedy, Tristissimo. Originally advertised as a triple bill with Scottish company Spotted Stripes Circus‘s take on Frankenstein, that piece was cancelled due to an injury. Instead, we are treated to an extended version of Tristissimo.
Unchained sets things up with an enigmatic, eerie setting. A small tent like space in the middle of the stage lifts to the skies, with metal chains and cloth tentacles rolling down to the floor. Oddly reminiscent of a giant jellyfish, the set is accompanied by two dancers, both dressed identically, who proceed to indulge in a tightly choreographed dance amongst the metal chains that hang down from the set. The two dancers entangle with each other, at times blurring the lines of where one performer ends and the other begins. The production claims to be an insight into the cyclical nature of oppression, betrayal and rescue; whether it’s successful in that respect is debatable – the performance lacks a resounding pay-off. However, the talent on show from the aerial work is undoubtedly very impressive.
Tristissimo is a more appealing performance in its slightly humorous, jolty choreography as the two protagonists, initially unsure of one another, begin to find a common symmetry and mutual reliance. It’s an oddly romantic, surreal journey that the two characters take, reaching a slightly bizarre and tragic ending as our heroine meets a pitiful death in the distance looking like a mix of Chewbacca and Cousin Itt from the Addams Family. It certainly won’t be a piece that will appeal to all, but the Theatre of the Absurd is alive and well in this unique piece of work.