Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre presents a production by Theatre Témoin and Cie Traversière that tells the story of an artist battling insomnia and mental illness, combining expressive physical acting with skilful puppetry that brings the demons inside the protagonist’s mind to life.
The Fantasist depicts the troubled life of Louise (Julia Yevnine), a frustrated artist who can’t sleep and has lost her joie de vivre and ability to paint. By night, she tosses in her bed, while during the day the inanimate objects that surround her take on a life of their own; constantly distracting her from the only thing that seems real and makes her feel alive – her art. Though her friend (Julia Corrêa) and care worker (Catherine Gerrard) offer all the support they can, her only source of pleasure and inspiration is a phantom figure in a blue coat who appears on a whim and whose charm is a veil for his true intentions. A cast of other apparitions serve to further confuse and torment Louise as she struggles to maintain her hold on reality.
Yevnine’s wild-eyed performance draws inspiration from her own experiences as a carer and from research workshops carried out with bipolar sufferers. Her dishevelled appearance and use of her body, which contorts when in angst and explodes in almost balletic movements when she is released from the constraints of her psyche, provide a convincingly visceral portrayal of a bipolar patient. The small sub-roles are adequately performed but it is the outstanding puppetry, choreographed by Robin Guiver and implemented by Corrêa and Gerrard, that enlivens the story and gives it a surreal and disturbing quality. The puppets represent the degenerate characteristics of Louise’s broken mind – conscience, desire, self doubt, denial, despair – and their appearance and movements are, by turns disturbing, farcical, threatening and amusing. Guiver has previously worked on choreography for the West End production of War Horse and is currently assisting in the casting and creation of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, and this production offers an excellent showcase of his experience and skills.
With a running time of approximately 70 minutes, the simple premise is not overlaboured and the piece is ultimately an expertly composed and entertaining representation of the turmoils associated with mental illness, sketched out in bold, physical strokes that take us on a journey into the mind of the eponymous Fantasist.
At the Blue Elephant Theatre until 17 March
59a Bethwin Rd, Camberwell, SE5 0XT