The Desire Machine
Before he built the Thames Tunnel, a feat of Victorian engineering, Marc Brunel invented various devices including a boot-making machine, a sewing machine and a letter-copying machine. Now, ten metres below the Thames in Brunel’s Tunnel Shaft in Rotherhithe, a different, darker machine stirs: The Desire Machine.
Even before the performance begins it’s a spectacular event. Entrance to the “360° live installation”, created by Peckham-based, site-specific performance group Arbonauts, is via a passage so small you have to crawl through it. Then comes a steep clamber down several flights of steps encased in scaffolding. Throbbing reverb echoes around the space, growing louder and more ominous as the audience members make their descent.
At the bottom is Carl Robertshaw’s imposing, black, cylindrical cage set – the Machine itself – which soon bursts into life. Performers spin, suspended from above, or crawl, animalistic, from the depths. They twist themselves into impossible shapes to a pulsating soundscape as the stage rotates, dizzyingly. Dressed for the most part in leotards, the muscular performers look and move like escaped circus acrobats who have fallen into some kind of nightmare world that’s equal measures hypnotic and unsettling.
There are snippets of distorted dialogue but the narrative gets lost somewhere among the strobe lights and writhing bodies. It’s not about storytelling though: Arbonauts show rather than tell, and present their audience with a series of teasing tableaux vaguely grouped under the theme of “desire”, sometimes beautiful and sometimes downright disturbing.
The atmospheric Tunnel Shaft is the perfect setting for this high-concept, zany zoetrope kind of theatre. Part peep-show, part dance piece, The Desire Machine resists categorisation and comprehension but, in embracing its elusiveness, the audience is treated to a mesmerising experience in a truly unique space.
The Desire Machine is on at the Brunel Tunnel Shaft from 14th until 25th July 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a promotional video for The Desire Machine here: