Review: Kingdom @ HOME

The stars aligned for Barcelona last night as they were victorious on both the stage and the football field.

In a fitting turn of events, FC Barcelona descended on Old Trafford while Barcelona’s leading theatre company tore up the rulebook, captivating the audience at HOME with their ambitious live spectacle Kingdom.

Delivering something extraordinary for the 25th anniversary of ¡Viva! Festival, the innovative Señor Serrano peel back the layers of modern society in their crazy hour-long carnival.

The company set the bar high after wowing in 2017 with sell-out show Birdie and as they return with Kingdom, the anticipation from the audience is palpable.

Our curiosity is fueled by the set. While a giant screen dominates the space, three rows of tables are cluttered with random objects – from a sailors hat to a bottle of Jack Daniels – which will all gain significance later in the performance.

The show hinges on the surprisingly fascinating history of the world’s most popular fruit – the banana.

In a creative twist on the documentary genre, the company walk us through the history books as the miniature set is live-streamed onto the screen. Although Kingdom presents a brand new concept, the performance develops Señor Serrano’s signature technique of ‘cinema in real time’, building on the impressive foundations laid by Birdie’s success.

We begin in Costa Rica, 1876, with the discovery of the “fruit of paradise.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: The world’s most popular fruit was an obscure commodity in the 1870s

Filmed in the onstage foliage and streamed onto the big screen in real time, the company cleverly manipulate the objects and backdrops to transport us into the heart of the jungle.

We learn that the humble banana rose from obscurity in the 1870s to become “king of the supermarket” within fifty years.

In the minds of Señor Serrano, the rapid expansion of the banana trade serves as a fitting metaphor for capitalism today.

The technique of magnifying small objects to make a grand statement is often used by the company and their analogy is illustrated with stunning visuals throughout the performance.

There are several live musical numbers that switch between techno and punk rock with electrifying guitar solos and pulsing beats.

There are moments of humour in Kingdom where both the charisma of the company and the bizarreness of the show have the audience laughing.

From TIME Magazine to Ted Talks to Tinder, touchstones of popular culture accompany the central narrative, making the madness onstage feel all that more familiar.

Following newspaper coverage of the Wall Street Crash and the banana famine, the king of bananas himself appears on the screen, beating his chest in footage from the 1933 film.

As Kingdom moves between its intelligent analogy and the primal roar of King Kong, it gives a stark reminder of just how far we have come.

Capitalism becomes an “injection of testosterone,” as the all-male company strip their shirts and bang their chests in an ironic display of masculinity.

The footage shifts to the 2005 remake as even Kong himself can’t escape our “unprecedented social progress.”

Underneath the celebration of humanity’s achievements, there is a sense of “catastrophism” in the company’s own words.

CRAZY CARNIVAL: Kingdom’s refreshingly original content conjures up a chaotic feeling which leaves its audience dazed

“We live with the feeling that everything is over, on the verge of extinction.” The subtitles roll across the screen.

Although some of the performance’s rhetoric should be taken with a pinch of salt, it is hard not to feel apprehensive with the repetition of “estamos bien” (or “we are fine.”)

Although Kingdom puts the core mechanisms of our Western world under the microscope, the content never feels too heavy.

Fast paced and frantic, the visual spectacle invades our senses. The movement between spoken languages – Spanish to English to Chinese – adds to this sensory chaos. There is so much crammed into the hour-long performance that moments of silence come as a relief.

The climax comes at the end of the performance as macho men take to the stage for a final dance, straight from a Canal Street club night.

Strobe lights begin to flash, smoke fills the room and the volume is ramped up. Confetti cannons fire into the audience as the performers go wild and celebrate – whether they are celebrating our primal heritage or impressive progress remains unclear.

References to Brexit amongst the chaos feel surprisingly fitting as the final moments leave the audience feeling dazed.

In the saturated world of theatre, Señor Serrano push the boundaries of performance art with a show that is refreshingly original and joyfully intelligent.

Bananas and capitalism are two unlikely bedfellows but Kingdom explores the nuances of their relationship in a weird and wonderful way. The world is mad; let’s just embrace it.

Kingdom runs until Saturday April 13 at HOME.

Images courtesy of Vicenç Viaplana, with thanks.

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