Matthew Paluch sees the Peeping Tom’s ‘Triptych’, part of the London International Mime Festival
|Venue||The Barbican, London|
|Date||4 February 2023|
When a piece starts with a woman being dragged along the floor like a piece of meat things don’t bode well.
Well for me at least. Though not for the standing ovation masses that greeted the end of Peeping Tom’s Triptych at the Barbican as part of the London International Mime Festival 2023. I’d never seen Peeping Tom before, so I arrived with high expectations, but I left far from satisfied – in fact, I was mostly offended by the end.
Triptych is, of course, an evening of three works – The Missing Door, The Lost Room, and The Hidden Floor – connected by the performers who feature in all three, as well as other similarities in both language and look.
The first two pieces don’t have an official interval, so we had the pleasure (not) of witnessing set #1 being dismantled and set #2 being built. It was all rather contrived in action with much frenzied cleaning and aggressive stares at the audience. Performative.
The Lost Room begins, as The Missing Door did, with a woman being dragged offstage like a hunk of beef. The Hidden Floor starts with a deeply traumatised woman hurling herself onto the stage, now one inch deep with water. Trauma features a lot… and I’m not really sure why.
Researching Peeping Tom, I learnt that the concept ‘huis clos’ is a big deal to them, and that’s evident. All three pieces derive from a sense of foreboding caused by the environments they take place in. Confined, suffocating, repressive. Less so The Hidden Floor; but by this point we’re deep in Peeping Tom territory. And what’s that, I hear you ask… let’s say physical theatre, packaged in a David Lynch style – warped surrealism with major Stasti-esque aesthetics. In reality, the concept leans towards the lowest common denominator. Huis clos as a raison d’être feels kind of lazy and obvious to me. It’s inevitable you’ll create atmosphere that way, but it doesn’t take a lot of work by creator or observer. It’s the difference between Mille-feuille and Twinkies. I’d prefer audiences to be connoisseurs, not gluttons.
Of course, there are strengths. The ambiance is very apparent, the visuals are strong (Concept and Direction, Gabriela Carrizo, Franck Chartier), the sound (“Sound Dramaturgy [? Ed.], Sound Composition and Arrangements”) by Raphaëlle Latin is painful, but perhaps in a befitting way. And the dancers are amazing. What they can do is astounding. We’re talking proper physical theatre, verging on a more refined version of tumbling. Spines and necks doing what they shouldn’t be humanly able to do. And their conviction can’t be questioned.
But I couldn’t ignore a major issue.
I really struggled with the way the women were represented and treated – they were either deeply traumatised or being hauled around quite aggressively in partner work, and often with an overt, sexual, dominant/passive vibe. At one point in The Hidden Floor a male dancer basically threw his female partner to the floor, and as a loud bang ricocheted through the auditorium I was dumbfoundedly thinking, Is this for real?
I felt generally uncomfortable throughout and propose that the majority of the work was created through the male gaze. The Hidden Floor included nudity as well as water. The water is fine, as The Lost Room was based on a boat, so things developed from there, but the nudity? Some men totally; some women topless. None the wiser. An additional distressing moment happened at the end of another naked sexually aggressive duo. The couple in question had a sort of violent, mutual seizure, and were then both disposed of through a hole in the wall as flames burned near them, reading in the worst possible taste.
Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier – the founders of Peeping Tom and the creators of the works – clearly have vision and a team who support and believe in what they do. And, of course, everyone has the right to create work they see fit, but we must also accept it won’t always be read or perceived in the way we want it to be.
For me, the whole night was much more about shock than substance, disturbance rather than valuable exploration. And perhaps that’s what (some) people want. I much prefer work with a little more sophistication and a lot less in-ya-face purgatory. Puff pastry or suet pud – take your pick.
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers’ Teaching Diploma in 2007, and is currently on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.
Thank you for this review, I wish I had seen this before I saw the show as the description was somewhat vague.
Couldn’t agree more that the female representation, excessive trauma and stereotypes were all there without any justification. Shock for shock sake and I’ve seen plenty of ‘edgy’ shows.
I tried to find any kind of purpose but it just felt like Eraserhead and Cafe Müller were rehashed and not with any grace.
The performers were incredible though.
Many wannabe Bausch moments. But not.
I have been following their work for years.
Peeping Tom has a very defined aesthetic and way to explore ideas, generate movement and create thought provoking work.
With all my respect, I disagree with your review. As a female I did not see this work as created through the male gaze but as provocative showing what we, woman, experience: violence, loss, despair…
The construction and deconstruction of the set was even more poignant due to all the metaphors and analogies that could be drawn from this multilayered and complex work.
Triptych is a performance that needs to be seen more than once in order to decode the hidden gems embedded in this work. Definitely not a piece for the faint hearted.
We’ve chatted elsewhere – but thanks for commenting with your insightful reading.