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Updates from the 2011 Artistic DirectorElisabeth EastherSchools Review CompetitionReviews
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Marvellous Teamwork Animates a Cardboard Rat Race World

By - 17 Mar 2011
"Apparently ‘gaff aff’ is Swiss slang, meaning something like “gape at the ape”. It partly sums up the role of the audience in this frantic, playful, portrayal – by Swiss duo, Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot – of a man all but caged by the trappings of modern life."

"Zimmermann is dancer, clown, choreographer and mime artist rolled into one angular person. De Perrot is composer, musician, DJ and puppeteer.

De Perrot is popping a cardboard cut-out of a record out of a square of cardboard. He puts it on his turntable and is off to a bumpy, scratchy start. Thumping sounds issue from his mixing desk, and the music builds up in a rhythmic crescendo of noise.

The set is made up of tall rectangles of different sizes. One of them starts to move, quiver, shuffle around the stage. It develops an arm, feeling its way into the world. Another arm appears, a leg, buffeted around to the music. Eventually the man appears, freestanding without cardboard. He finds his briefcase, which seems to have a mysterious musical life of its own.

Nothing is what it first appears. The briefcase drags him around as much as he drags it. The mixing desk slowly floats away and we see that it is in fact a giant needle on a giant turntable that is the stage. The floor starts turning. Life is a cardboard kitset, a treadmill, a topsy-turvy world of sound that pushes and pulls the protagonist, churns and then spurns him.

Zimmermann's character is a prisoner of his own life, torn between the familiarity of the routine and breaking free of the mould. He gets up, gets dressed, commutes to work, shuffles paper, looks busy, gets stressed, blames the furniture, goes home, sleeps, starts all over again.

There's a fine line between the actor and the set. Sometimes he's wearing the set, almost growing out of it. The set itself changes, constantly in flux. It's made entirely out of cardboard, including the table and chair. Mostly consisting of tall cardboard panels, one opens a door to nowhere, others have shapes popped out of them and made into other things; one of the cardboard 'walls' has pictures of cardboard boxes printed all over it.

Suddenly, with a subtle change in lighting, the rectangular 'boxes' are a cityscape. Car headlights zoom by, the Man is trying to catch a train. He is often lost, trying to find his way, his bag, his balance, trying to get somewhere, walking in circles.

The action moves between this disoriented sense of anxiety, and a playful creativity of associative movement, and at these times Zimmermann reminds me of Chaplin. Sometimes it's all too abstract and absurd and I can't follow what's going on. Perhaps this is some point in and of itself, but it's one I missed. 

The turntable floor is in two sections, one inside the other, often turning in opposite directions, which helps create the illusion of speeding up and slowing down movement, and the sense of running and getting nowhere. Zimmermann's character is somehow rat-like: baring long teeth in a manic grin to a squeaky soundtrack, 'gnawing' holes in cardboard, trapped in the rat-race, scurrying around through the fragmented, mirror-maze that is his life. There is a sense of helpless fast-forward and rewind; of a stuck record/film reel.

The Man gets on the train and in go the iPod headphones and out comes the cellphone. Frantic texting ensues for the entirety of the journey.

At one point the audience become the puppets, as the Man conducts our applause, discovering to his great glee that he too can be in control, briefly, before he's yanked back onto the revolving stage. 

Towards the end Zimmermann makes very clever use of the cardboard panels, tapping out shapes to make a lamp, a window, a cardboard doll / robot / companion, which he briefly communes with before turning it into a chair. He now has a house. He pats his cardboard cat, he looks out the window, he drops dead. 

The magic of Gaff Aff is its ingenious and often comical interaction between movement and music. The music - sometimes spooky, primal, industrial - pulls the Man this way and that. Intensely focused, de Perrot is sometimes as desperately frantic as Zimmermann, as he builds up the music. Then he suddenly stops and has a break, taking a swig from his pump bottle and Zimmerman has to hang in mid-air like a marionette, till the music starts up again.

They are a marvellous team, simultaneously creating music for the eyes and the ears; Zimmerman's movements take on a symphonic rhythm so that it can be hard to tell whether the music is taking its cue from the movement or vice versa."


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