Review: The Desire Machine, Brunel Tunnel Shaft

Theatre can take all sorts of shapes and sizes and be performed in many different areas. That’s one of the things I love about the arts – you can find great works in all sorts of inspirational spaces. The Desire Machine, for example, is performing in the Brunel Tunnel Shaft, a huge underground chamber that sits directly above the now used Tube line that runs underneath the river Thames. A circular cavern, its vast space gives an incredible acoustic that resonates through the audience – the perfect setting for this performance.

Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder, creative directors of The Desire Machine, have strived to create a live installation in which sound and visual performance intermingle and add to the overall experience. The stage is a circular, central plinth, dark and semi-industrial in appearance. Launder has built it up with ropes and metallic beams to give a three-dimensional platform for the performers to work with. The plinth constantly spins around at a steady pace to ensure all of the audience experiences different aspects of the work. Dim lighting and encompassing sound at times give a calming and serene atmosphere, but quickly contrast this aggressive and pulsating scenes.

Galliano’s influence takes form in the actors themselves. A figure in white writhes above the structure. A statuesque woman appears ethereal in a white spotlight, but then turns to meet your gaze with eyes black as pitch. Every movement is performed with precision, all the while the background drone slowly increasing in pitch to subtly build the intensity. The scenes at times imitate a still life, a distorted imagery that matches a voice-over as the actors shift to different exhibition positions. As the show progresses, more of the actors perform a number of contemporary dance pieces. Dressed in white and red leotards, a male and female repeat a set sequence of steps with a steady increase of pace. Afterwards another figure clad in black latex imitates ape-like movements, dragging her knuckles along the ground with an aggressive animalism.

Although both directors looked at various aspects to the piece, there doesn’t feel any separation between the actors and the stage. Everything is fluid and interlinked – the actors frequently climb up the metal beams to elevate the action into 3-D. The last few minutes of the show have the actors spinning at full speed round the turntable whilst strobe lighting highlights their movement. The effect is not unlike a slow motion special effect in a film, or like moving swiftly through a flick book. A black curtain falls and the audience is left in darkness until they eventually decide to clap the piece’s conclusion.

Overall, the piece exposes the audience to something different. Is there a background, a storyline, or an emotional intent? If there is, I was too naïve to see it. But nevertheless, I appreciated the abstract nature of the work and couldn’t help but be taken along on whatever journey the whole thing intended.

The Desire Machine is playing at the Brunel Tunnel Shaft until 25 July. For more information and tickets see The Brunel Museum website. Photo by The Arbonauts.