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Best of BE Festival review at Barbican – ‘audience participation at its best’

The Whistle, part of Best of BE Festival at Barbican, London. Photo: Alex Brenner The Whistle, part of Best of BE Festival at Barbican, London. Photo: Alex Brenner
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This year’s selection of the Best of BE Festival – Birmingham’s annual showcase of UK and European performing arts – is shot through with the idea of compliance, be it us (the audience) or the performers themselves that are asked to play along.

The strongest of the three comes by way of Italian company Tida. The winner of last year’s festival – it’s clear why – is as sublime as it is ridiculous, but is also a timely reminder of the reach of financial difficulties in the arts.

The idea is this: funding for a five man troupe of dancers – led by Marco Chenevier – is cut and the lighting and sound crew don’t turn up, leaving him alone at the mercy of participating audience members who take over control, and creative licence, of his work. Chenevier is a charming performer with impeccable comic timing and intuition. This is audience participation working at its best.

Grumelot’s #sobrejulieta is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet in which the audience is made the Romeo to performer Carlota Gavino’s Juliet. A fusion of Spanish and English text puts the audio-visual design to good use, as Gavino makes us both participants and mere observers in her game of love.

Squarehead’s The Whistle meanwhile, hinges on the obedience of its audience. Requested to close and open our eyes on alternate whistles we are guided through the piece by Irish circus performer Darragh McLoughlin, who uses the form to play with space and with notions of time. It is the most introspective of the three and an interesting contrast to its punchier neighbours.

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Intriguing trio of works which showcase the breadth of European performing arts