Award-winning company Café Cachorro, performing for the first time outside Brazil, comes to Casa 2015 with a show that carries an ambitious goal — to get under the skin of the notoriously impenetrable Samuel Beckett.
The rulebook is unceremoniously tossed away in Neverwhere Beckett, a work described by the Rio-based company as a ‘work in regress’. This is no adaptation — instead co-directors Bruno Paiva, Leandro Fernandes and Leonardo Bastos have devised a show that uses heavily stylized choreography and staging to undertake a dramatic study of Beckett’s mind.
All plot, character and any fragment of denouement are stripped back until only the essential remains. On paper, this might all sound overly academic, but on stage it is jubilantly bonkers. Objects such as a bowl and a spoon, feather dusters, and, of course, hats, become the stimuli for a series of vignettes.
Mime artists, contortionists and clowns all rolled into one, the three performers bombard the audience with a series of bizarre sketches. Draped in billowing black costumes, designed by Daniela SantMor and integral to the act, the actors wear grinning faces and their bodies fold and twist into strange and bewitching shapes. Oblong-shaped boxes, dragged back and forth across the stage, are used to curl up in, poke out of, and fire potatoes from.
Many of the sketches explore the recurring themes of Beckett’s work. Whether it is the futility of language, the passage of time or the comedy of unhappiness the playwright’s paradoxes have been carefully observed and re-interpreted.
There is a constant yo-yoing between multiple identities but the actors’ physical differences also allow for the creation of individual characters. Gentle giant Bruno Paiva, often wearing a wide-eyed expression, plays the tragic clown, while the wild-haired Leonardo Bastos has the haughty air of an emperor.
With his pencil-thin frame, an ability to convey emotion from a flex of his fingertips and an unnerving range of mask-like expressions from humble servitude to maniacal elation, Leandro Fernandes is the show-stealer.
Initially a bit awkward – giggles are stifled until it dawns on us the comedy is intended — the audience soon lapses into a state of wonder. These three shape-shifters who interact with such sublime accuracy and skillful invention leave us enthralled like children at a circus.
Having liberated themselves from the texts of the literary colossus, Café Cachorro go direct to the core of Beckett’s work. With this brave and unique piece, these capering magicians from Brazil prove they are ones to watch.