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Jakop Ahlbom Company: Lebensraum review at Peacock Theatre, London – ‘rich, strange, surreal’

Jakop Ahlbom Company: Lebensraum at Peacock Theatre, London. Photo: Stephan van Hesteren Jakop Ahlbom Company: Lebensraum at Peacock Theatre, London. Photo: Stephan van Hesteren
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The photo of Buster Keaton on the wall is a clue. Jakop Ahlbom’s inspiration for Lebensraum derives from silent comedies and cinematic slapstick. But that is just the beginning.

Metropolis, Humans, Frankenstein, Alfred Jarry – Jakop Ahlbom’s magpie mind snatches ingredients from all these and more.

Following the outstanding paean to horror movies in 2015’s LIMF, Horror, this earlier work made in 2012 is a more benign piece of acrobatic surrealism. The shock of the undead girls and bloody blades gives way to trompe l’oeil illusions and slapstick acrobatics, humour laced with melancholy and a light dusting of Grand Guignol.

Two men identically dressed awake and prepare breakfast in a room decorated with the most hideous wallpaper imaginable. Another two men camouflaged in suits matching the wallpaper pattern detach themselves from the wall and provide live musical accompaniment to the increasingly bizarre goings on.

The men are an odd couple of anal retentives; neat and synchronised up to a point their aim is clearly to instil order through mechanical aids – from the Wallace and Gromit/Heath Robinson contraptions dispensing condiments and a tabletop toast train to the mannequin maid they construct to perform the housework. The subliminal switch from a mannequin to a real woman is theatrical distraction at its most adroit; the headfirst dive through a wall via a man’s abdomen is a gasp-inducing illusion.

There are visual gags ancient and modern; a false hand-up-the-sleeve, a cat’s cradle of electric cords jostle with an hilariously grisly scene in which they perform open-art surgery on the automaton. The duet between the malfunctioning maid and one of the men is a sublime sequence of pure acrobatic dance. There is something rich and strange here, a fantasy caught in the peripheral vision of the subconscious.

Horror review at the Peacock Theatre, London – ‘genuinely terrifying’

Verdict
Jakop Ahlbom’s experiment in acrobatic surrealism
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