Browse reviews

Brighton Fringe 2019

An Extraordinary Curiosity

Esther Natzijl

Genre: Dance and Movement Theatre

Venue: The Old Courtroom


Low Down

Difficult to categorise, this unsettling, captivating and ethereal piece is a melange of physical theatre, dance and puppetry. Probably more suited for an adult audience, it delivers its stygian story and message in a hypnotic potion of movement, noise and light. A truly unforgettable experience.


I was walked into a petite former courthouse, across a Marley clad floor, by juvenile stewards; and pot-luck seated amid tiers of hazard tape. A suitably surreal aperitif to what became an extraordinary experience. A dim halo of light falls on a foetus-folded lone figure. Is it golem, or Gollum, or something else entirely? The performer enters the space with a seeming mixture of curiosity and trepidation, sidles up to the reclined creature figure, and reaches cautiously to explore, examine and engage. What follows is a rite of passage, emotions flickering wildly, as the form moves through physical caricature, mime, contemporary dance, puppetry, and ballet.

The accompanying music evolves from industrial noise and algorithm, to orchestral classicism. Elbow deep in orifices, the performer animates and engages with the mannequin, in a darkly joyful duet that that transitions from curiosity, through abuse, to the final freedom and redemption. There are elements of fringe perfection in Ester Natzijl’s performance. Strong production values run from the choreography, through soundscape, and lighting. In the puppet itself resides an overall vision that is both gothic, and surreal. The puppet or mannequin is a pale fleshed construct of articulated foam, with cold glass marble eyes, and a slightly dropped jaw vacancy.

Its constructor Evandro Serodio is also a taxidermist, and some of that macabre trade is encapsulated in its body. Both the choreography and the movement itself are of a high order, to be expected from one trained at the superb Netherlands Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag. But it is both the range and expression of the movement that are captivating, a clear indication that Natzijl has explored widely and deeply, whilst acknowledging her root training. Seven years in the conceptual growth, and three years in the making from Amsterdam to Manchester, this is, and is not, physical theatre, dance and unfleshly animation.

Difficult to categorise, it is perhaps best left to the creator and performer’s own description of “multidisciplinary theatre performed by a dancer and puppeteer”. Not for the faint-hearted, let alone the automatonophobic, but hypnotic and captivating, this piece is truly “Not a pas-de-deux” but something beyond. Natzijl freely acknowledges the choreographic influence of Nicole Beutler, and the shadows of Kemp, Jarry, Diagilev, Roerich, von Kleist and others can be felt throughout the piece, but the truth is, it is truly original. The standing ovation was richly deserved, and I fully expect to see and hear more of this enigmatically magical piece.