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Published on Saturday, 19 May 2012

4 stars

Dip Your Toe at West Pier (venue website)
12-13, 19-20 May, 1:00pm-1:20pm, 1:20pm-1:40pm, 1:40pm-2:00pm, 2:30pm-2:50pm, 2:50pm-3:10pm, 3:10pm-3:30pm, 4:00pm-4:20pm, 4:20pm-4:40pm, 4:40pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 World Premiere.

Five people sit round a cloth-covered table, in a tiny, darkened room.  If you’ve visited a camera obscura before, you’ll know what to expect when the fabric’s whisked away; if you haven’t, prepare to catch your breath.  Recreated for the Fringe in a travelling bathing machine, this marvel of Victorian invention projects live pictures from the beach outside, with an elegance and fidelity entirely unmatched by modern CCTV.

And standing outside, there’s a solitary woman – nearby yet distant, an unreachable object of desire.  At a little short of 20 minutes, this innovative performance by Seth Kriebel and Zoe Buras was never destined to have the most sophisticated plot, but it’s still a heart-warming story of a boy meeting a girl in a distinctly 21st-century world.  The gentle narrative is quietly matched by the live images on the table-top; expect plenty of moody beach-walking and staring out to sea, as we hear the story of two lovers separated by the waves of the Atlantic.

Ironically, some of the play’s most striking imagery isn’t projected, but drawn.  Magic marker in hand, the two actors annotate the pictures on the table with some simple sketches of their own, which evolve cleverly with the plot and lend extra interest to the pebbly scenes piped in from outside.  There was no auto-focus back in Victorian days, so the characters become fuzzier as they move further away – a neat metaphor for the effects of separation, made all the more effective because it’s so delicately done.  And there’s an arresting stunt with a piece of paper, woven nicely into the narrative and lending plenty of artistic justification to the optical trickery.

The story’s a sweet one, but the way it’s told is resolutely free of saccharine.  Kriebel, in particular, delivers his heartfelt lines in a matter-of-fact, almost disinterested style.  It’s a deliberate ploy of course, and it neatly parallels the theme of viewing a life from afar – but it didn’t really work for me.  It felt uncomfortable for no real purpose, and gave the whole piece a slight air of affectation.  In similar vein, I didn’t see much benefit in linking Kriebel and Bouras’ personal story to the mythical tale of Odysseus; apart from anything else, there just wasn’t time for that idea to go very far. 

But in the end, there are three performers in Vivascope: Kriebel, Bouras, and the camera obscura.  The human performance is engaging enough, and it’s executed with practised perfection, but it’s the retro technology which really steals the show.  If you’re lucky enough to catch a sunny day, you’ll be stunned by how vivid the live projection is – and whatever the weather, you’ll find yourself entranced by its curious, old-school beauty.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.