Review: Groupe F

Walking into the Adelaide Oval for a live performance is always a treat, and that is surely true of Groupe F.

Upon entering the stadium, thousands of audience members file through the stands to their seats on the turf. Stepping into the centre gives one a giddy thrill of being on the Oval itself, which is heightened by the large and ominous ticking plinth sitting on the Northern end. The giant black and white trapezoid is bestowed with a timer counting down to the start of the performance of one of the Adelaide Festival’s most highly anticipated spectacles. When the clock hits zero, it all begins with ominous flashes, complex projections upon the plinth and a figure trapped within it. Once the figure escapes this prison, they begin a long march atop the platform, and the audience follows along gleefully. Dressed in a suit of glowing white bulbs, this solitary figure walks in one place while the plinth beneath it conveys motion with rolling scenes of patterns, like landscapes, animal prints and geometric scenes. In truth, this first set of walking extends for a long time, and leaves the audience wondering where all the pyrotechnics they were told about are. One confused audience member was heard to shout, “What the bloody hell is going on!?” But the pyrotechnic array soon explodes into life in a plentiful variety of fireworks and flames. Scott Gibbons’ curious soundtrack of blips, beats and gibberish complements the performance, adding atmosphere to this figure’s inexplicable journey. The fireworks and eruptions of flame sit well within the soundtrack as it reaches epic crescendos along the way. The figure is greeted by four more individuals who interact, compete and play with our protagonist in various ways, including a remarkable set of flaming marionettes and a comical ambulance and stretcher sequence. Further flammable artistry is woven into the performance with giant burning cages and enormous flamethrowers as the figure’s voyage continues. Exactly what this figure’s journey constitutes or means, if anything, is up for debate. The progression marked by nature-themed projections, to a journey into space, to playing in the digitised world of a keyboard until the gigantic flaming finale seems to suggest an analogy for man’s journey from the jungle to present day. However, this interpretation is likely one of dozens that could be made of the show. In that ambiguity A Fleur de Peau’s Groupe F loses something. After all, this is an Adelaide Festival show. What are we supposed to take away from all the fire, projections and sound aside from gaping mouths? What is it saying? Groupe F is not here to provide answers or even ask questions, but to delight the audience with a unique spectacle. Having sold-out Adelaide Oval’s pitch with more than 26 000 attendees, it has accomplished as much. 3.5 stars Groupe F performed at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday, February 27 as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts.

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