Master of illusion, Tom Cassani Picture: Manuel Vason and Tom Cassani

 BE Festival – Thursday

Birmingham Rep


BE Festival is the annual celebration of European theatre which uses Birmingham as its main hub to entertain audiences with performance art.

The festival is a centre for cultural exchanges and to connect through art. The Birmingham REP is transformed into a buzzing hive where artists and audience members mingle together and all areas of the building can be accessed.

The usual workshop at the back of the REP for a week becomes a thriving meeting place with constant live music and art installations. The main stage is also in use for an interval dinner.

Thursday at BE consisted of four performances. We were witness to circus, dance and many themes taking us from thoughts of darkness and fear, to being uplifted with humorous performances by the end of the evening. The material was vast and wide ranging, which created an exciting evening for discussion and intrigue.

The first performance we saw came from Tom Cassani, entitled Someone Loves You Drive Carefully and was a submission from the UK. He used circus as a driving force to create a one-man half hour piece about deception and trickery and made sure to gain gasps and frightened outbursts from the audience.

Cassani used tools which a person might deem to be dangerous in everyday life, however, for him they were only mechanisms to show how easily the human mind can be fooled. Some main apparatus included a nail, an animal trap and a fish hook. As a Circus performer, Cassani could manipulate his body in a way beyond most people, which meant that we witnessed some extraordinarily grotesque images. Judging by the audience’s initial reactions, this had some very mixed responses.

Within the first sequence of Cassani’s piece, we saw him hammer a six inch nail plainly into his nose. He had a matter of fact air while doing this that suggested he was used to consuming such metal, however to the audience, it was mesmerisingly shocking. Cassani proceeded to stun the audience by making us believe that his body was stronger than the objects designed to hurt humans, for example drinking from a glass loaded with sewing pins, or letting an animal trap close around his hand. The final and most striking image came at the end where Cassani fed a fish hook through his nose which came out his mouth, leaving the audience in total disbelief at what they were witnessing in front of them. Cassani was also a beautifully fluent and engaging performer. With his self-written script, Cassani’s dialogue added to the story of deception and sources of trickery.

We saw Violent Event next by German company Billinger and Schulz. Their performance is described as showing how ‘acts of physical aggression and the escalation of violence can both disturb and stimulate us’. This is exactly what happened as the seemingly controversial performance clearly made a large impact. The performance, also around thirty minutes long, depicted the meaning of consent.

It explored different levels of violence and aimed to explore how far one can go before people start to get uncomfortable. In a mainly physical performance, the company of five used many tactics to depict acts of violence upon one another, all the while informing their performance partner of what they were about to do. This made for an interesting reaction from the audience, as we were always prepared for what was about to happen, but even forewarning could not get rid of empathy and passion when the action was carried out. The performance was highly physical, where we would see performers punch each other with blatant force and intent. Their underlying message blurring the lines between intrigue and disgust.

Levitations by Hannah De Meyer from Belgium started the second half of the evening. De Meyer is a poet and performance artist and her one-woman piece was an engaging look into an artistic spectrum regarding her own thoughts. She was bold to create suggestions of a journey with sexuality. Her performance relied heavily on the power of storytelling. Through her striking presence and darkly humorous delivery, De Meyer told us about taking a ‘trip’ into one’s mind to explore raw human emotion throughout movement and the spoken word.

Lastly, we saw This Work About The Orange by Italian company A.L.D.E.S. They were an engaging dance theatre company, consisting of two performers and their sound technician who also appeared on stage. Their main way of communicating to the audience was through a computerised bot who gave instructions and directions to us. This piece was heavily reliant on audience participation and this was because is explored the interactions and relationships between the usual setting of audience and performer, with the aim of one becoming a fusion with the other.

We had an ‘audience participation’ pack which was given out before the start. It did of course include an orange to be used later on during the show. They were uplifting and stimulating, given the odd circumstances in that an audience is not usually used to having an active role performers. They asked the audience at the start to donate money into a box and during the course of the performance, audience members could also win money by completing tasks and games as instructed by the robotic voice. The level of audience participation increased as the piece went on, until, by the end of the performance, practically every member was involved in some way or another. The company had us throwing oranges and paper aeroplanes on to the stage and for one audience member in particular, they found themselves stripped to their underwear in an inflatable pool having liquid being pored over them. It was interesting to observe, as you were both performer and audience member simultaneously. The company helped to relieve all inhibitions that comes with attending the theatre.

It was an eclectic array of performances from continental Europe all packed into a single full night and the atmosphere created should make Birmingham proud to be home to a celebrative and inclusive event.

Elizabeth Halpin


Index page Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre