Review: Rúa Aire by El Retrete de Dorian Gray

El Retrete de Dorian Gray (The Toilet of Dorian Gray) are a Spanish puppet company, brought to the UK as part of the Suspense Puppetry Festival, produced biennially by Little Angel Theatre. The company is two performers and puppeteers: Ezra Moreno and Marcos PTT Carballido, and their Artistic Policy (according to their website) is ‘We Do Things’ which, like their performance style, is refreshingly uncluttered with today’s artistic cliché.

Their latest area of interest, begun with their last show Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me), and continued with Rúa Aire (Air Street) lies in creating puppets out of balloons. All types of balloons, including those very long, thin ones which are so often exploited by childrens’ party ‘entertainers’, purporting to create multicoloured dogs, camels and giraffes which, sadly, all seem to look the same. Not so by El Retrete de Dorian Gray. They shape bubbles which rise and fall on cue, spheres within spheres, and bend, partially inflate, and burst their balloons to create real shapes, fluid and animated. Not that the clichéd balloon-animal doesn’t make an appearance. It does … as a cuddly toy, to soothe a distressed man to sleep – a perfect analogy for the vast difference between what the ‘entertainers’ and El Retrete de Dorian Gray manage to create, using the same materials.

Rúa Aire is total performance. The two puppeteers, rather than dressing in black and hiding away, pretending not to be there so as to focus attention on their puppets, dress in brightly-coloured costumes and perform with their characters. It is tempting to wax eloquent about sequences within the show, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’ll plagiarise the company’s own words to describe it: A very old machine to process and inflate balloons … Two operators whose boss is on sick leave because of depression … A bunch of balloons, determined to live … A troubled shower (that sequence was particularly hilarious) … A dump of forgotten balloons … A bowler hat with legs … An ending which coincides with the play’s completion.

Rúa Aire is engaging and inventive, refreshing and humorous, and performed with consummate skill. The soundtrack, created by Pablo Rega, is evocative and perfectly synchronised with the action, and the world which is created, just for an hour, is totally absorbing, taking you on a journey down to the bowels of the balloon processing machine. Unfortunately there probably won’t be that many opportunities to see the show in the UK in the near future, but if El Retrete de Dorian Gray come to Britain again, or you happen to be in Spain, keep an eye out for them. I can guarantee that you won’t regret buying a ticket!

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