The Fantasist @ Underbelly

Exploring the murky depths and glorious heights of bipolar disorder through puppetry and physical theatre

Review by Rebecca Paul | 13 Aug 2012

Through puppetry, movement, physical theatre and music we are taken on Louise’s journey as she battles bipolar disorder. Presented by Theatre Témoin and Cie. Traversière, The Fantasist grips the audience from the off in a way rarely seen and this hold is only tightened over the hour.

Taking place entirely in Louise’s apartment, she is visited alternately by a kindly healthcare worker and the creatures of her imagination; a tall, dark stranger, a flying vampiric hag, two freakish charred heads and (my favourite) a small wooden pose-able doll akin to Morph, who vies for her attention with indiscernible child-like moans.

The exhilarating highs and interminable lows of the mental health disorder are tortuous, frightening, incomprehensible and extraordinarily funny, often all at once. What at one moment is freeing for Louise, suddenly becomes dark and dangerous. Interestingly the puppets don’t change – her nurse is even present in the room – but there’s an obvious ‘come down’ and the atmosphere suddenly becomes tumultuous. This is, by and large, thanks to ingenious manipulation of puppetry and choreography with few props or lighting helping our performers along the way. If ever a production dismisses the notion that puppetry is immature and unimpressive theatre, this is it.

In The Fantasist, it is mesmerising and perfectly married to its subject matter. The emotions of such an intense disorder are explored through Louise’s lustful and obsessive relationship with the tall stranger who romances her, only to disappear and leave her distraught. She is harassed by the small doll, bullied by the vampiric hag and cajoled by the two heads. Somehow, at the same time she is also enticed and encouraged because she exists in a world where everything makes sense. Manipulation is everywhere.

As the lights fade, the audience is left shocked, exhilarated, saddened and amazed at the story that has just been told.

The Fantasist runs daily until 27 Aug @ Underbelly, Bristo Square