A man arrives at a restaurant expecting dinner but this restaurant’s staffed entirely by robots. And not just any robots but repurposed vacuum cleaners.Compagnie Bakélite make a welcome return to visual theatre festival Manipulate with their latest show, L’Amour du Risque: part French absurdist theatre, part masterfully engineered puppetry, and part absurd slapstick. Billed for ages 8 and above, the child sat next to this reviewer chortles with delight all the way through the 30-minute show.
The story’s not overly complicated and not a word is spoken throughout. Olivier Rannou is dressed for dinner. When he’s eventually managed to hang up his jacket, he sits down at a table as yet unset and the pantomime begins. The table is dressed and topped off with a rose in a vase. Rannou summons a drink and another elaborate rigmarole later, a few mouthfuls are slopped into his wine glass. The robot waiters appear to be attempting to assist the diner – but are they really? The diner appears to be trying to help them on their way – or is he teasing them? Though it isn’t clear, the story matters less than the fabulously inventive delivery.
The set is spartan – a table and chairs – and is carefully lit, courtesy of a collection of overhead lamps from Alan Floc’h. The artistry is in the precise engineering of the delivery of the dinner service, admirably orchestrated by Morien Nolot. The label of ‘Robot vacuum cleaners’ does no sort of justice to the comically trundling apparatus, offering linen, cutlery, glassware, and even a candle that almost got lit. But ultimately, these waiters seem to have scant appetite for ensuring their guest goes away well-fed. Their possibly determined thwarting of the solo dinner date bumping up against Rannou’s stoical endurance is deliciously comic.
This half hour of theatre must have taken 300+ hours to perfect and it shows. If you’re looking for wider meaning, look no further than the raging debate about whether AI helps or hinders. But if you’re ‘just’ after some super inventive, hold-your-breath-enthralling theatre, L’Amour du Risque is a treat.