Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Imp (Jude Quinn) - Bouffon theatre in Belfast - a playful creature, or something more sinister?

Superficially, the Imp is a Bouffon artist clowning around on stage on four limbs in a tight black body suit with extra lumps and bumps. The Imp is at first playful. While Bouffon creatures are often asexual, this Imp is definitely male.

The audience's first sight of the Imp – for those paying attention to the stage and not chatting away to their friends – is a white hand that crawls onto the stage before walking off again. Soon the full Imp is moving around, introducing his “Je Suis …” placard to the packed audience in the MAC.

Jude Quinn trained for the Bouffon style of comedy at the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He remains silent for the hour long performance, other than the noise of his suit against the floor and some heavy breathing. The routine is full of slow movements and controlled gestures, many of which are rewarded with audience giggles. Jude's eyebrows and chin deserve their own dressing room given the level of performance they give.

You can smell the fear as the bare-footed grotesque Imp walks off the stage and up the steps into the stalls. Audience members who’ve settled into their chosen seats are moved around with hand-signals, nods, raised eyebrows and a few comical false-starts.

Tension is carefully managed throughout the performance with a level of trust maintained between performance and watcher, though for some individuals this becomes pretty stretched as their belongings and eventually their whole selves become part of the on-stage action.

Bouffon ridicules and challenges normally respected figures and practices – religion, taste and decency – and The Imp certainly explores all of these right up to and perhaps beyond your point of discomfort. Any misgivings that the Imp will turn out to be a hilarious gimp-suited Mr Bean are quickly dispelled.

The “Je Suis ...” chalk sign contemporises the performance and provides the chapter markings as the phrase is modified between scenes. While the Imp is imaginary, the domination and torture that the multi-layered act explore are very real. Snapshot the action and you’ll even spot the recreation of an Abu Ghraib thumbs-up photo.

There's more than a nod to Edgar Allen Poe's The Imp of the Perverse as the Imp displays his own mischievousness and leads people into mischief. Through wordless direction, some audience members are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and play along with his plans. Individual self-interest is conquered and the Imp masters and dominates all those in his reach.

With the final victim audience member on stage and a good rapport built up, the Imp flicks the balance of power and in an instant the humiliation is complete. The performance ends with the Imp miming along to Pulp’s Common People, a further reminder that in this messed up world we’re no better than the rogue and perverse Imp that’s been entertaining us for the last hour.
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.
I want to live with common people …

While the Imp appeared at the MAC for just one night back at the end of February, Jude Quinn together with his director Gemma Mae Halligan and their physical theatre company Amadan have created a monster that will hopefully return to local stages as well as further afield venues to provoke and terrorise more audiences. Over time the poignancy of the Je Suis … Charlie Hebdo motif will fade, but I'm sure the playful-yet-sinister Imp will find a way of getting his way with new audiences.

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