Theatre review: Survivor at the Barbican

Sculptor Antony Gormley has crafted an impressive show but the message can get buried under the weight of an epic production

Technical difficulties delayed the start of Survivor by an hour, but Antony Gormley’s arrival on stage to introduce the opus he created alongside multi-media choreographer Hofesh Shechter was enough to pacify the grumbling audience.

Yet the sculptor’s advice not to “expect too much” seemed at odds with the mounting anticipation and grand setting.

A lone figure standing with his back to the audience – in the style of Gormley’s famous cast iron sculptures variously found on Britain’s beaches, bridges and rooftops – marked the start of a production big on impact and velocity.

The figure was soon joined by five others who embarked on a series of ghostly and synchronised movements, sometimes weighed down by heavy cannon balls but always backed by a thumping and haunting soundtrack. Their purpose was unclear, but their thoughtful routines drew on themes of loss and oppression.

All the while, a black and white backdrop screened video projections of waterfalls and murmurations, while roving cameras captured uncomfortably close-up shots of the performers, live backstage footage, and – in an unwelcome surprise – picked out the squeamish faces among the audience.

Yet it was the music that had by far the biggest impact, as it inexplicably switched from ear-piercingly loud drumming, thrashed out with tribal intensity by 100 amateur drummers, to acoustic folk sung soothingly by a lone guitarist.

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In short, it was a cross between a Sigur Ros gig and an evening of Stomp. And while the grandeur is no doubt impressive, whatever message there was behind this epic production was easily lost among its mechanics.

* Survivor was at the Barbican in Silk Street, EC2, from January 12 to 14, 2012.