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He Who Falls review at Barbican Theatre, London – ‘exquisitely dizzying’

The cast of He Who Falls at Barbican Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of He Who Falls at Barbican Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton

A vast wooden platform has been suspended from the ceiling. Six performers stand on top of it as it spins and tilts, often at great speed. It shakes, it quakes, it pivots, while they struggle to stay upright, while they skid and tumble and collide. Sometimes their movements are graceful and precise, like a dance, at other times it’s all they can do to keep their footing.

Yoann Bourgeois’ He Who Falls – part of the boldly programmed London International Mime Festival ­­­–is an exhilarating piece of theatre. Watching it is often an intensely physical experience. Your heart would leap into your mouth were your stomach not already there. The timing is impeccable, the sense of risk real. When the platform swings across the stage like a galleon it misses them by millimetres.

For all its physical daring, there’s delicacy and beauty here too, the breath-stealing sequences interspersed with gentler moments. Bourgeois has created a kind of body poem. While the platform often feels like a plaything, to be danced upon and dangled from, like a giant seesaw or a climbing wall, a game of human Buckaroo, there’s also eloquence to the way the performers behave when the ground shifts beneath their feet, when they can no longer trust the thing they’re standing on. There’s something aching in the way they flock together and support one another. But there’s also a wry sense of humour in evidence, a bit of necessary wit.  All in all it’s quite an experience, tender and terrifying in equal measure, exquisitely dizzying.

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Moving, exhilarating, and extraordinarily poetic physical theatre