After a swelteringly hot day on their feet, feasting on show after show, midnight bought a comatose crowd to the main square of Sotteville-lès-Rouen’s Viva Cité.
The tired eyes and bodies that yearned for bed were, however, soon enough awoken by a man who begun to walk vertically down a twenty-story block of flats. With all eyes in the sky, a puff of red smoke launched a boat out of the balcony of the tallest flat, soaring over the heads of the crowds and crash landing in the middle of the square. In a whirlwind of the marching drums, electronic guitars, fire, and pyrotechnics that followed, Générik Vapeur and Xarxa theatre took us through a promenade performance of the history of human greed, corruption and violence, a searing indictment of war, consumerism and industrialisation that injected a shot of adrenalin in to this audience’s sensibilities.
Lead through the dark by green and red flares, the running crowd followed a series of carriages that conjured up globally familiar images of damage and devastation. One after the other, these mobile installations propelled the audience through the streets ; everywhere you looked something terrifying was happening… the burning grids of fire wheeled by laughing, sweaty men who charged at their starving victims… the forlorn looking lady balanced on top of a pile of suitcases starring in to the eyes of the audience, lost…the grotesque, over-sexed women bathing in a giant toilet.
After a direct allusion to Guantanamo Bay with a production line of orange boiler suit shifting suitcases- like cogs of a machine-the company mounted giant shopping trolleys and began throwing boxes of cornflakes into an ironically hungry, grabbing audience. The atmosphere was chaotic, an exhilarating fusion of excitement and terror, with people throwing fistfuls of cornflakes at each other, some cheering, some visibly disturbed at the nihilistic world that unfurled before their eyes.
In an electrifying finale, which boasted burning Euro signs and half massacred, charging cattle, the piece culminated in a fight between the two greedy ringleaders in their shopping carts who, in a frenzy of paint and feathers, battled it out for the ultimate consumerist title. One final bang and shot from the dozens of silhouette soldiers (perched on top of the Intermarché we were now gathered in front of) showered us with gold, in a disastrously beautiful moment. The crowd were stunned. The eerie silence that followed was testimony to the thought-provoking effect of the piece, an apocalyptic warning that forced us to open our eyes to our own desensitisation.
Photos and text : Holly Webley-Naylor and Josh Bridges