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Brighton Festival 2024

Low Down

Hours spent playing with polystyrene pay off in Andrea Salustri’s heady theatrical mix of skilful manipulation of plastic and air, music and light.


Theatre companies today strive to be sustainable (especially if they seek public funding) but how many can say that their stage material will be composted by worms, Zophobas Morio, which have bacterial enzymes in their gut that biodegrade polystyrene, making them able to digest it?

It’s good to know, because the stage will soon be awash with polystyrene in all its forms, bounced, flayed and fractured by Andrea Salustri, aided by a number of strong electric fans and some simple props.

Materia is a show without words that’s never silent. Sound designer Federico Coderoni weaves his own original music and that of Ah! Kosmos  through the piece building an aural soundscape full of intriguing burbles, ticks and lush tones. Microphones capture and transmit the movement of polystyrene balls propelled by air, guided by Andrea’s hands. A monochrome landscape is formed through cutting, holding and manipulating his material in constant motion, demonstrating its vulnerability when partnered with the force of a wind.

As with any show that is based around spectacle, your mind is free to conjure allusions. An orrery over there, a creature hatching from an egg, the flat plane of a Donald Judd construction. Andrea dances with a white square, lightly held by fingertips, it flutters like a kite catching a breath of air and somehow avoids being fey.

He makes sparks fly like a Roman candle, lit from above; Michele Piazzi’s lighting is an art piece of its own, sculpting space around set-pieces and, with the soundscape, adding high drama to Andrea’s choreographed movement.

Strobe lighting – rather overused –  signals a deeper turn. We’ve moved from pretty little dancing balls, juggled by air, to something more apocalyptic and my heart goes out to those for whom explosions are frightening realities right now. Materia is science and art in action; a full-on sensory experience.