There’s theatre that leaves no space between audience and performer, and then there’s theatre that equips you with a waterproof poncho and set of eye plugs before blasting you with water, glitter confetti, costumes, seaweed, plastic balls and a company so energetic they make the floor shake. Oh – and there’s theatre that does all this while two dancers stand in the already cramped space between rows C and D, humming furiously while licking each other’s tongues.
Perhaps, then, it’s only fitting that this fourth wall smashing wipe-clean pot of mayhem is a production all about audiences. Presented as part of LIFT festival, this 25-strong troupe, led by Toco Nikaido, contorts the focus of a traditional show to shed light – and so much else – on the fans. Taking wotagei as its starting point – that sugar-fuelled, home-crafted, high-octane group choreography seen at J-Pop gigs – Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker is a love letter to those who devote their lives to their cultural heroes. Like the apple that fell close to the tree, before turning into a environment-dominating digital corporation, this fan-fuelled seed shoots away from its inspirational parent to generate a central immersive experience in its own right. The result is overbearing, anxiety-inducing and wring your trousers out soggy. But in its re-centering of audiences within the infinity mirror of spectacle, it is also extraordinary in the most thrilling sense.
Through an energetic 45 minutes, Nikaido’s troupe delivers a piece of performance art that is as self aware and tightly coordinated as it appears chaotic and impulse-led. In an opening by Kyle – “The Translator” – Yamada, we are introduced to “shy and modest” Nikaido, who storms onto stage with striped socks, a large, velvet crown and a bucket full of Japanese exclamations – commands that, in their frequency and intensity, rival any other missiles delivered tonight. Despite her introduction, the only time Nikaido can be described as anything like retiring, is when she retreats to the tech desk to continue barking orders and blowing her whistle until the end of the performance.
Concerned as much with what happens around the stage as what happens on it, this night in a theatre borrows from both promenade and site specific trends – offering a study into the relationships forged between performers and audiences, as it delivers what, at times, feels like reaction without stimulant. Under the acid colour scheme, and in-front of sickly, bubble-font slogans that are, in turn, obscured by leotard-clad bodies, Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker presents a collage of found theatrical experience. We begin with the Kabuki masks, the lanterns and the parasols of Japan’s traditional theatre scene, before catapulting through some more local references – from the accordions and baker boy hats of Les Mis, to Aladdin’s lamp. “NOMAL [sic] THEATRE SUCKS”, proclaims a banner. Thankfully, this is far from normal.
But imitation doesn’t stop with theatre imitating theatre. Masks of various kinds are brought out throughout the night. A reference to the international clip-art symbol for drama, perhaps, but also a license to let loose. Anyone who’s ever been to a Japanese game show will have held this hall pass into silliness – and it is magnificent to watch the full-fat energy of this boundaries-down style chipping away the sensibilities of this British audience. “We sincerely apologise if we happen to step on your toes”, Yamada chimes before the dancers are let loose – but, beyond the ponchos, minimal lengths are made to put the audience at ease. If a point can be made by going around the audience, that’s no reason not to step right through us.
There’s something about the sheer excess of Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker that makes it strangely soothing – as if the decision to participate or not only becomes apparent after you’ve already been swallowed up by the show’s energy. What begins seeming a lot like riot in Akihabara melts into something far more neatly engineered, under Nikaido’s sharp-eyed planning and clear hunger for detail. Props and missiles come in and out of focus as performers transport themselves from centre stage to mid auditorium in mere seconds, and have water pistols trained to the back of our necks before a shift in routine becomes apparent. Beyond a riot of noise and a crude explosion of colour is a flawlessly cued show that physically pulls the audience right up with it, until the cries of “Encore! Encore! Ankooru! Ankooru!” turn out to be for us. Well – what can I say? Miss Revolutionary, you’ve been a great audience.
Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker is on until 2nd July 2016 at the Barbican as part of LIFT 2016. Click here for more information.