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Brighton Festival 2023

Low Down

Lulu – What a warm delight? Lulu is a kooky piece of performance art, that encapsulates various disciplines of theatre from mime to acrobatics. The content itself loosely follows a man’s quest to search for Lulu (a metaphor for important life questions regarding a sense of ‘self’– not resulting in any answers!). Philippe Ducasse (The Unknown Man) ventures to explore the absurd ways to escape from his own existence, as he ‘travels’ through his day-to-day life using various disciplines of theatre; to include acrobatics, contact staff, mime and physical theatre. Ducasse is both the creator and performer of Lulu, a visual performance artist from Berlin.


Ducasse is the creator of this devised piece, venturing on to The Rotunda Theatre (bubble stage) with heightened energy that had his audience laughing from the on-set. It soon became clear that without any staging, we’re in fact in ‘the nameless man’s’ apartment, watching him embark on the mundane tasks that fill his world, yet keep him bound to his own boredom. Ducasse’s ideas take hold to great effect, as we see him search for food, taking comfort in his dwindling chair – all of which are crafted through timed sound-effects and supported mimed actions – very few props are used in this performance. What keeps his audience connected is the ever-changing facial expressions of The Unknown Man – sometimes curious, sometimes fixated, sometimes fatigued – always highly engaging. Sometimes Ducasse would break the fourth wall, allowing his audience into his world, encouraging welcomed audience interaction. Moments of slapstick comedy like this is simple, but still creates the desired effect.


Comedy gold is both when you observe moments that are tangible and completely out of the ordinary – both of which Ducasse has a nice balance between. Initially, as we observe his manic dehydration, we want him to be successful in sourcing refreshment – only to discover he endeavours to drink water from his imagined bong – this is where the action sets afoot in a more alluring journey as we see his life go from reality to fantasy. The audience cackle when The Unknown Man attempts to hurl this water into an imagined toilet seat, only to reveal the seat has been left closed initially which paints further layers of laughter – we see Ducasse hug his mimed toilet in desperation, what will unfold next? More chaos? Absolutely!


Highlights of The Unknown Man’s quest to find Lulu, evolves rapidly to navigate the areas of the apartment and yet this time, ideas transpire as becoming even more surreal, almost in the sense of psychedelic transportation. An absurd yet amusing moment was when Ducasse communicates through figurative mime, lifting an imagined bird from the sky (that he previously would sing to) and begins to engulf this imagined animal – to then throw it’s body into his concoction of what might resemble a soup/stew of multiple ingredients (depending on what he finds from the limited rations within the kitchen). This was a shocking moment as the audience laughed in sheer disbelief at the ludicrous nature of this action – as the drugs he has consumed had taken a bizarre effect. Appearance verses reality is up for question, as the audience continue to watch The Unknown Man’s journey in finding Lulu, “A central theme of Lulu is how beautifully absurd suffering sometimes is,” and this moment really conveyed how laughter and ludicrous production can diminish the suffering.


The show continues to be interrupted with what appears to be fragmented television interludes, as ‘Lulu’ attempts to communicate via white noise or remaining channels. The Unknown Man ventures into the television, appearing to navigate his own ego in various scenes. Once he skips past recognisable references – the classic cliché Titanic tableau – we see him venture into a strip show; ironically becoming the performer not the observer. Ducasse had his audience laughing continuously as he mimed to music whilst becoming shamingly provocative in his dancing and fabricated exploitation. Lulu was clearly not here, but this was a welcomed change of pace, which was executed with precise comedic timing.


What must be commended is Ducasse’s variation of skill and control – if you enjoy contact – staff choreography, you will enjoy The Unknown Man’s relationship with the broom, which becomes a female companion that he intends to take great care of. This manifests itself in beautiful balance work – a dance with the baton, balancing this object with variations of pace – even through use of the toes! This illusion of companionship however becomes greatly distorted when The Unknown Man begins to remove the eyes and hair of his companion, questioning whether she ever existed in the first place? I wonder how many people could relate this beautiful work to our local shores in Brighton where circus skills are often performed of a summers evening? It’s great to see and never fails to entertain!


Lulu successfully entertains the audience through various imaginative art forms, from hysterical car chases and mimed ‘floating’ in the sky – None of which are easy, how do you mime floating when your feet are firmly on the ground? You will have to see Lulu to find out! The work loosely signposts mental health as a theme, as we see The Unknown Man unable to escape his own loneliness, which he compensates with excessive substance abuse and a poor diet – I think solidifying key themes in this style of performance can be a difficult task, and was not always clear but through reading Decasse’s work it appears he wanted to find comedy within the tragedy to entertain his audience, no more, no less.


For me, the ending was slightly open ended, almost unfinished in a sense – as more dialogue was introduced into the world of mostly mime and sound-effects, this felt somewhat unnecessary/confessional as The Unknown Man started to verbally address the themes of the play – Was this needed? With that said, I think we all could take away that there’s a bit of Lulu in all of us – surely everyone is trying to connect with their own sense of self (their own Lulu) whilst navigating self- doubt and need for self-preservation. I will be interested to see how this work evolves in future performances.  So many beautiful moments, from the balancing of the red ball to the comedic timing of the car chase – Not wanting to spoil all visual elements, but you will be entertained by Decasse’s skills as a performer – This is definitely a hidden gem from the Brighton Fringe Festival.