Hilum (London Mime Festival @ ICA)

Hilum from the Les Antliaclastes company led an alienating furore into a sinister underworld of disused utilities and abandoned souls. Cobwebs and stained cabinets bordered a rusted washing machine: a simple and claustrophobic space of endless malleability. Deformed puppets crawled out of their surroundings and burst into activity. Long-forgotten creatures, left discarded in a murky underworld, were hybrids of skeletons and every other nightmarish biological ‘other’. Mischievous exploration of their dank surroundings became a malevolent showcase of uninhibited playtime. Hilum, initially inspired by the cycles of a washing machine, set a precedence of uncomfortable and twisted collision between reality and terrifying fantasy; between the threatening and merely theatrical.

The puppeteers manipulated the characters with resulting charm and intricate idiosyncrasies. Four cast members, clad in white gowns, stepped over each other succinctly socialising the characters. With seldom opportunity to falter, the puppeteers were impeccably practiced and awe-inspiringly talented; the seamless action was enveloping. Despite being part of the grand imagery of the production – as ominous domestic overlords – it is telling that the puppeteers often stole attention in the more lackadaisical segments of the production. In some instances, the characterisation felt a tad dull and ironically lifeless; however, whilst some audience members remained stern, others resigned themselves to fits of giggles.

Hilum’s brilliance lay in the sudden acceleration into intrusive and overbearing scenes. The central washing machine spawning an infant was a surreal surprise. ‘The Story of the Lonely Pubic Hair’ misguided an audience into humour before darkly returning to the cannibalistic world of the basement. The finale was chaotic, disfiguring the Humpty Dumpty fairytale with obtrusive impact. An invasive score accompanied throughout. The visual stimuli and combined grinding music propagated an uneasy atmosphere.

 All presented in Hilum’s pit was inescapable. Perception of narrative was indicative to entertainment, yet the dissociative action did not necessarily negate enjoyment. Les Antliaclastes encapsulated a theatre of cruelty masterfully, transferring a bibulous concept into a cyclical and corporeal domain. The end result left spectators nonplussed, occasionally barricaded from a simple ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ reaction. Importantly, Hilum remained engrossing and well deserved of its current sold-out run.

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