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Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker review – ‘a sensory onslaught’

Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker at the Barbican Centre, London. Photo: Cyclone
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You know the weird bit of YouTube – the 3am bit that starts with you watching a debate on Faroese agricultural policy and ends with you staring at a cat that’s been photoshopped to look like it’s vomiting rainbow ferrets? Well that’s a bit like the experience of watching Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker. It’s a sensory onslaught: it’s rainbows, cats, confetti, water pistols, glow sticks, Michael Jackson, leeks, Lycra and pom-poms.

Presented as part of LIFT, the show is a tribute to Japanese fandom culture in which wotaku (‘geeks’) perform intense stylised dances called wotagei. The piece has been created by Tokyo-based artist Toco Nikaido and her 25-strong team of performers, dressed in absurd neon-lit costumes. By exaggeratedly performing many of the tropes from the wotagei superfandoms and subculture, Miss Revolutionary makes fun of them, embraces them and turns them into art.

From its opening minutes the piece hits hard and doesn’t stop: it’s saturated with sound, colour and smell, as intensely saccharine J-pop blasts out and the performers dance (best not to ask where they keep pulling their glow sticks from) and clamber across the rows of seats while pelting us with water. There’s a strange mix of fear and pleasure, in not quite knowing where the next bombardment is coming from.

Once the initial trauma has subsided it becomes clear that the dancing is extremely precise and well choreographed, every movement in perfect synchronisation. It’s primary school playground routines on a larger, louder scale, mixed with Belieber-level hysteria. Every performer fully commits, with gruesome gurning faces, and everyone knows exactly what they’re doing and when.

It’s very carefully controlled chaos. But it’s still chaos. Ponchos drenched and earplugs pounded we leave disrupted, disturbed, physically and sensorily assaulted, with a ringing in our ears and a huge smile on our face.

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Loud, garish and at times barmy tribute to Japanese subculture that overloads the senses