This review was written for Animations Online
‘Savanna, A Possible Landscape’ is a performance about a broken piano. It’s also a performance about wanting to pull something apart and assemble the pieces into something new. And, like all good puppetry, it’s about that quirky impulse of ours to imbue inanimate objects with life. Except in Amit Drori’s world, objects aren’t just given life by puppeteers; their movements are enhanced and extended by radio-controlled mechanics.
The creatures that inhabit the Savanna – a place that springs from a boy’s jealous relationship with his mother’s old piano – are a delight that draw audible coos from the audience. Who needs David Attenborough’s new television series about ‘Africa’, when you can witness Amit Drori’s creatures close up? The caterpillar, moth, grasshopper and snails buzz like electric shavers but still somehow convince us they’re real. The combination of hand manipulation and mechanics only serves to make them seem extra alive.
Exotic and far larger, the beautifully crafted tortoise and elephants are more autonomous, operated remotely and able to explore the stage independently. It may be a robot, but the tortoise has a distinct, slightly despairing personality that is communicated through the surprisingly subtle use of a remote control.
Over the course of a daydream-like hour, five performers (including Amit Drori himself) move around a set of simple, pale wooden boxes, interacting convincingly with the creatures. They construct a skeletal tree out of jagged planks and put up a tent. They listen to the radio as they work. Lighting, sound and projections are controlled on stage – the five are both cast and crew – and the equipment they use to produce enlivening effects become props in their own right.
The story is loose and barely there – it would be hard to tell someone what happened afterwards if they asked. Plot is less important than creating a visual impact, and the narrator (booming and recorded) feels distant from the action. Rather than a play in the traditional sense, this is animated sculpture, a place of both possibility and artificiality, a zoo. ‘Savanna, A Possible Landscape’ is fascinating and also rather odd – and so perfect London International Mime Festival fare.