FRINGE REVIEW – The Fantasist, Underbelly, Bristo Square


By Danielle Farrow

The Fantasist, presented by Theatre Témoin and Cie. Traversière, is a strikingly bold, beautiful and beguiling play. Puppetry, physical theatre, original music and skilled artists in performance and design meet in this production to create a humorous, poignant and fascinating look at the mental health condition that is bipolar disorder.

Both the terms ‘depressed’ and ‘manic’ are used out of clinical context a lot, in ordinary life, but rarely with an understanding of the behaviour that accompanies such phases for those who are clinically suffering / enjoying them. The Fantasist is excellent in its observation of the internal logic of manic and depressive thought, the way that what an outsider will observe as completely illogical and coming out of nowhere is actually caught up with lines of thought that not only make sense to the thinker, but can be explained once that person is back on an even keel. They may not have been thinking within the context of the world as others know it, may indeed be completely divorced from most of the normal considerations people have, but there is still rhyme and reason within their disconnected world.

The Fantasist explores those stories, the ones that have internal cohesion, but are, in the end, really fantasy. Its use of speed is simple and inspired: Louise, as her mind wanders strange paths, flights and falls, is out of sync with those visiting her, and this is shown through subtly handled differences in speed of movement and of speech. Physical performance is, in fact, excellent throughout, detailed, controlled and, in the way of those highly skilled, seemingly effortless, as just three actresses bring the staged room, the Fantasist herself, her friend, her nurse and her fantasies to vivid life.

The character puppets involved – a seductive yet frightening Blue Man, a red vampiric bedevilling creature, two gossipy, gruesome heads and a thoroughly entrancing tiny figure rather like an artist’s mini mannequin, are all engaging, believable and wonderful to watch. There are also intriguing sequences where objects of the room are animated, with delightful detail. Every part of the set – an easel, a bench, a bin, a stool, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe with a slanted top – is put to use; there is nothing wasted in design nor performance.

Above all, there is comedy with the tragedy, light with the dark, as the extremes of experience – apt for this material – are included, much of it to a backing track of music, cracked through with disturbing tones and sounds, which seduces, intrigues and torments in equal measure. You are sucked into the world of The Fantasist and, hopefully, come to understand it better.

The ending is one which could divide opinion, not only on whether it is liked or not, but also on what it is supposed to mean, so: explore the fascinating world of The Fantasist yourself and find out what it stimulates for you…

1 – 27 August (not 15), 12:25 (13:25) @ Underbelly, Bristo Square

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