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June 28, 2011 5:33 pm

Lullaby, Pit, Barbican, London

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Lullaby at the Barbican

'Lullaby' lures the audience into restful slumber

The last thing a theatre company usually wants is to send the audience to sleep. But that is exactly the effect sought by Duckie in their latest show. This idiosyncratic company has turned the Barbican’s underground Pit space into a dormitory and composed an “immersive” theatrical event designed to be soporific. The audience (of 50) is tucked up in bed (singles, doubles and triples available) and encouraged to fall asleep during the performance. They are woken at 7.30am and offered breakfast after what the company hopes will be restful slumber.

It is an extraordinary event. As an audience member, you turn up at bedtime and are greeted by kindly Barbican staff in striped pyjamas offering cocoa. After changing into your nightwear (a subject of some consternation – modesty, comfort or elegance?), you are led to the dorm, a circular amphitheatre of pretty white beds, arranged in two tiers round a performance space. The beds are comfortable, appointed with night-lights, water and earplugs and the atmosphere is benign, restful and companionable.

Once everyone is abed, the show, directed by Mark Whitelaw, begins. There is a surreal cabaret of magic tricks, nursery songs, story readings and dancing creatures. After a short break (for teeth-cleaning and general fidgeting), comes the more interesting section: a deliberately low-key collection of dreamy melodies, hypnotic light projections, and stories about the music of the spheres, winding down to an ethereal lullaby and readings that gradually disintegrate in sense.

Not easy to review: after all, the more successful the show, the less you should see. The first half of the evening is a little too whimsical. But the second half is fascinating, the elements linked together by themes of connection and reassurance and echoing the capricious, circular nature of drowsy thought.

As theatre, it upends expectations: it’s daring, yet gentle, aiming to soothe rather than stimulate, and it explores the contract between performer and audience. By focusing on that natural yet often elusive border between waking and sleeping, it also raises questions about the way our minds fight or find sleep. And there is something very touching about an event so bent on caring for its audience.

To my surprise, despite the great heat and one operatic snorer, I did eventually nod off, to be woken by the most endearing dawn chorus. Stepping out into bright sunlight and the commuter rush, I felt as though I had been in another world.

3 stars

The Barbican

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