Review: BPolar, VAULT Festival

“This is no way to treat a king”

A fascinating one this, an adaptation of Gogol’s Diary of A Madman by the Israeli “Ayit” Ensemble (made up of actors from and around the Negev and Beer Sheva) which is performed wordlessly, employing instead a range of movement techniques, live video art and projections, a pulsing contemporary soundtrack and theatrical trickery to produce a dizzying non-stop hour of theatre.

BPolar follows the life of a minor civil servant, from his troubled upbringing with a violent father to a misguided obsession with his manager’s daughter, to a descent into the turmoil of the bipolar disorder that haunts him. And Yoav Michaeli’s production proves a canny way of depicting mental illness by creating an immersive experience that is near-overwhelming in its scope.

Ofer Freeman’s clerk sits at the heart of this multi-disciplinary work and gives a powerful performance indeed, buffeted by all that life throws at him but also by the other five members of the ensemble. They cover the roles of everyone else in his life story (including the demons in his head), and manipulate movable platforms and screens, using them to appear and disappear seamlessly in and out of scenes. 

Played out mostly behind a gauze screen onto which Eli Levy’s video work is projected, Avi Sechvi’s design allows for maximum flexibility but being a fringe production, it is perhaps a little rough around the edges. The kuroko work – stagehands dressed all in black to denote invisibility – is excellently done but occasionally, their clothes underneath were visible, shattering the illusion, and the sightlines from my seat meant I was often privy to some behind-the-scenes business.

That said, the fast-moving energy meant there was no time to linger on such small things. And the relentless pace, that still managed to find within it different speeds, manic episodes and woozy spells both disorientating and deepening our appreciation of what it might be like to have a mental illness. A boldly adventurous piece that deserves to be seen. 

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Booking until 31st January

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