Ersatz (4 stars)

Ersatz

credit: Laurent Guizard

Manipulate 2020: Sometimes strange and always surprising, this is physical theatre at its most creative

As the curtain on Ersatz figuratively rises, the stage lights don't dim – they blind, shining pure white rays directly into the audience's vision. When the light eventually adjusts, a single man is revealed sitting behind a lightbox desk, his every movement reverberating through the room: the deafening crunch of his jaw, the thundering squeak of his eyelids, the roaring creak of his neck muscles. As the unnamed protagonist explores his surroundings, plugging a crocheted brain into his laptop's USB port, constructing a VR headset out of jigsaw pieces, and constantly mediating his body through technology, what is at first pure sensory overload gives way to a powerful consideration of the relationship between man and machine.

This posthuman blurring of the boundaries between the physical and technological is made outstandingly effective through Collectif Aïe Aïe Aïe's incredible production values. Actor Julien Mellano – the only presence on stage – is perfectly cyborg-like, his tightly controlled movements simultaneously encompassing a natural fluidity and robotic mechanics, while the special effects, achieved by layered light, sound, and magnets, are seamless to the point of magic. As the scenarios veer from the ridiculous to the nightmarish, the questions surrounding our contemporary relationship with simulation and reality become all the more urgent. Bizarre and spectacularly inventive, Ersatz is a fascinating investigation into the modern condition, with no easy answers.

Reviewed at Summerhall, Edinburgh.

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