For their latest show, The Roof, presented by Fuel as part of the London International Festival of Theatre, choreographer Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg (co-founder of artist collective Shunt) have transformed the open air car park across the road from the National Theatre into a thrilling performance space.
As night falls, we are led into a round stony pit. Designer Jon Bausor has created an urban skyline that encircles the audience. We quickly discover that we are in the middle of a live video game. But we are merely observers, unable to predict or change the outcome. An avatar (Danilo Caruso) dressed in a red jump suit pops up out of a box and attempts to leap across a chasm. He is met by a yellow-masked monster and falls. He has two lives left, we are told. The next time he makes it round the circuit leaping across chimney pots, negotiating sloping roofs, and scaling gables and all the time having to dodge would-be assailants. He is allowed to move up a level.
The creative team make some interesting connection between the avatars in a modern video game and the wanderers of antiquity. I was reminded of Odysseus and the various monsters and obstacles he had to overcome in order to return home. The drum majorettes that entice the avatar are like the Sirens and the different masks of the monsters he encounters recall Hercules' struggle with the many-headed Hydra. During one level, the avatar has to surmount the doubting voice of his mother, in another he has to meet brute force with violence. The circular nature of a daily routine, interspersed with random encounters and events, small triumphs and feats of endurance, is cleverly evoked.
The Roof lacks a coherent narrative and carries no central message but that is partly the point. For one hour, we can immerse ourselves in a multi-sensory experience. We are given Binaural headsets, through which we are fed a commentary of sorts, music and sounds that are brilliantly synchronised with the action (Dave Price), while the visuals and acrobatics, set against a darkening sky, are equally stunning.
Although it loses momentum slightly towards the end, the main power of The Roof lies in the way it blurs the boundaries between theatre, performance art and screen images and invites multiple readings. The colourful balaclavas and twerking are reminiscent of Pussy Riot's acts of protest. The lone woman enclosed in a glass box suggests a character trapped behind a computer screen. At one point I thought I was watching a film projection of rabbit-eared dancers and then realised it was live performance. Playful and provocative.
Running until 28 June at 9.30pm
Additional performances Fri and Sat 7pm
Doon Street Car Park
Opposite the National Theatre, London SE1
Book via http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-roof