Life, but not as we know it.
Henri Michaux was a rigorous explorer of his internal universe, using literature, drugs, and eastern meditation to push back the boundaries of a mind that was forever rebelling against his bourgeois Belgian birth. Life in the Folds pays an intriguing tribute to the writer and artist, even if it provokes questions about whether Michaux’s hallucinogenic wanderings ever produced visions of two girls clad in shimmering green trousers and waistcoats, dancing energetically to Irish and jazz music.
For that, in essence, is the show. Sinead Rushe is a former All-Ireland dance champion, while Jenny Boot is her enthusiastic collaborator – and from such unpromising beginnings a piece of exquisite, ironic and sharply engaging theatre has been born.
Michaux was obsessed with the threat a hostile external world poses to the fragile identity of the individual, so it is appropriate that Life in the Folds begins with a prose poem about sharp instruments piercing the skin until “a neurone spits out its electric suffering”. As the lights dim at the show’s start, a spotlight highlights a member of the audience, who turns on the other audience members with a challenging, amused stare, and talks about being attacked by a sabre as if she were recalling an entertainingly embarrassing incident at a cocktail party.
Rushe and Boot have calculated the tone carefully, so that Michaux’s often violent mental meanderings are recalled with the detached humour that made him a master of absurdity. One poem reflects on how he decided to put people who irritated him into a sack – whether they were “mediocrities” or “boring women”, and the pair accompany their recitation with a vividly choreographed session where they become comically trapped in the sacks the writer designated for social rejects.
The Irish dancing is executed professionally yet ironically – since both give it a raised-eyebrow approach which means that physically they are in tune with the urbanity of the words they utter. “I reduce him to a sausage,” cries Rushe, leaping around and pounding her hand into her fist, while Boot shows the audience a face that could launch a thousand absurdities.
The result is a refreshing tribute to a fascinating writer. This is a bold and intelligent delight.