>>> Review: Cold Blood

Brilliant Belgian show gives us the fingers, but doesn't make us feel much


COLD BLOOD by Michele Anne De Mey, Jaco Van Dormael and the Collectif Kiss & Cry, with text by Thomas Gunzig (Canadian Stage). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to February 14. $24-$99. 416-366-7723. See listing. Rating: NNNN


Let’s give Canadian Stage a hand.

By bringing the inventive Belgian show Kiss & Cry to town, first in the fall of 2014 and then in a remount last week, they have demonstrated just how expressive our humble little fingers can be, especially when combined with ingenious special effects and caught by cameras and projected onto a screen.

But where Kiss & Cry had a clear, poignant narrative arc – elderly woman looks back on five love affairs – the follow-up work, Cold Blood, receiving its North American premiere, isn’t quite as satisfying. The technical details will still make you smile, laugh and occasionally gasp at their inventiveness, but the story needs more focus.

After a voice-over introduction (spoken by Toby Regbo with text by Thomas Gunzig) that suggests we’re being hypnotized, the show begins with the image of an airplane gliding through the clouds, experiencing a storm and eventually crashing into a forest.

We’re then told that we will die seven times. Who is “we”? Someone on the plane? Seven people or one person dying seven times? All of humanity? Never mind. It’s best to sit back and enjoy the spectacle. For the next 85 minutes we’re shown the settings of those seven deaths, as well as each about-to-die person’s final memory.

The mises en scene (by Jaco Van Dormael and Michele Anne De Mey) vary from an old black and white musical, where two pairs of fingers tap dance across an art deco floor like Astaire and Rogers (with thimbles as “shoes”), to a sleazy strip club where a woman (again represented by a hand’s index and middle fingers) rubs provocatively up and down a pole.

Many of the bravura sequences have to do with film (Van Dormael and Julien Lambert are credited with cinematography). In one scene set at the opera, the camera turns behind the finger performer and, with the house lights suddenly up, captures us, projecting an image so that it looks like we are the people witnessing the opera singer’s show.

And the creators take that black and white musical homage a step further to provide a brilliant reveal that provoked spontaneous applause on opening night.

As with Kiss & Cry, the musical choices add a lot of texture: Arvo Pärt, Nina Simone, Schubert, Cecilia Bartoli, and Ravel’s Bolero. And Nicolas Olivier’s lighting is astonishing you continually look at the stage to see the humble light source and then marvel at the effect onscreen.

This time out, there’s an attempt to use more of the hand and body than just two fingers, but it doesn’t always work. In one scene, we see one of the performer’s heads, and it seems like a mistake. There’s also use of more abstract sequences, such as the kaleidoscopic number that ends the work.

The tone of this show, however, is more uneven than the earlier one, especially a story about a woman who uses a personal ad to meet older men, whom she then proceeds to eat. Literally.

Cold Blood provides some delicious theatrical treats, but some of it – like this sequence – is a little tough to swallow.

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