REVIEW: Leo (Auckland Arts Festival)


An Uncanny Spectacular [by Matt Baker]


A man in a box. It’s an elementary premise, but it is from within the confines of these walls, designed by Flavia Hevia, that actor, dancer, trampolinist, gymnast, and clown, Tobias Wegner explores a unique world and finds a seemingly limitless variety of play. And play he does. Wegner evokes a childlike quality in his performance, which is juxtaposed in his character’s drab, yet prim and proper appearance, designed by Heather MacCrimmon. This juxtaposition is also notably in the apparent effortless his character exerts, which requires an incredible amount of core and upper body strength from the performer.

The show is essentially broken into four movements, which I would personally title discovery, exploration, fear, and resolution. Although I felt that one or two of the sequences were slightly drawn out, none of the repetition within Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola’s choreography feels monotonous, and the audience, even its youngest members, remained wholly engaged for the full hour.

The simple effect of a light bulb (lighting also designed by Hevia) to start the action eventually results in the use of a select few props, each allowing Wegner to explore further into the world. Chalk paves the way for Ingo Panke’s animations, which are nicely flipped on their head to transition from one movement (exploration) to the next (fear). Likewise, the erratic ticking of a clock, subconsciously signifying some inevitable conclusion, leads to the exploration of time and sound. The combination of these elements allows the titular Leo to illustrate a wonderful sense of time and space through his narrative journey.

The magic of the show is a simple, albeit ingenious, illusion, one which Wegner and director Daniel Brière do not shy away from exposing. In doing so, we, as an audience, choose to both acknowledge and ignore it. Ultimately, we want to be fooled. The transition between live action and video footage (designed by Heiko Kalmbach), which we choose to make at our own discretion, also reinforces the duality of both the theme and the style of piece. There is a great sense of coming full circle, from the first moments in which we spend adjusting to said style, to the finale, where the walls between the two performance spaces are blurred. It is in this finale that Wegner delves into the deeper, darker side of the material, and through it finds the hero’s moment of self-achieved submission. The answer was with him all along; he just had to discover it in his own time.

The Auckland Arts Festival marks Leo’s second appearance in New Zealand, following his performance at Downstage last year for the New Zealand Arts Festival, and it’s easy to see why this Edinburgh Fringe multi award-winning show is touring the world. Brière and creative producer Gregg Parks of Circle of Eleven have presented a show that is incredibly accessible to people of all ages and languages.

Leo is presented by Circle of Eleven and plays as part of the Auckland Arts Festival at the Maidment Theatre until 24th March. Details see Auckland Arts Festival.

SEE ALSO: review by Raewyn Whyte

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