Review: The Beautiful Ones

As a part site-specific performance based on the ‘Mouse Utopia’ experiment of the 60’s, I was intrigued to see The Beautiful Ones. I had vaguely heard of the experiment before and was in a conundrum as to whether or not I should research into it further before watching the show, (especially as part of it was to be performed only in Cantonese). I decided, having never done it for any previous shows, that I would not – and I was glad that I didn’t. 

The first part of the show was a guided tour of the local area using headphones and a smartphone app to lead with a human to escort us ensuring we were tapping for the next step as a group. We had each been given a small leather pouch upon entering We Draman, after fifteen minutes the app instructed us to locate the coloured sticker inside the pouch which we were all to don (we were the green group). We were then asked some questions like ‘do you feel connected to the group?’ and ‘where do you fit in within the group?’ a very clever oxymoron highlighting the group experience whilst simultaneously split into individual experiences by technology. We were also supplied with a set of instructions in our pouch and a little snack (a piece of candy) for once we had completed them; it was upon completion that I noticed another group on the bridge above us watching our group carry out our instructions.    

The tour led us back to the black box studio where we had all initially gathered and sat before the show began. I was partly expecting to be taken to a different studio or that the studio might’ve transformed whilst we were on the tour but I was not disappointed to re-enter the space set with seating atop high raised platforms along each wall. The scaffold-esque sides left visible drawing upon some of the construction sites we had been instructed to notice on the tour, intermittent step ladders enabling you to climb up to the seating and, now, performers set underneath the platforms. I enjoyed the perspective a great deal and found it particularly thought provoking pre-show; observing others entering the space, their reactions to what felt like a test - climbing the awkward ladders and then becoming an observer from above whilst the stewards rush about below, was this all part of a bigger experiment?

I was well aware before attending the show that the second part was in Cantonese only and whilst I could easily grasp the basic outline of the performance I was expecting it to be a little less text heavy given the English and Mandarin language options in the first half. However, this language barrier did not take away from my enjoyment of the show. 

Visually and aurally the performance was highly engaging; the performers sang complex polyphonic songs, mainly led by Michelle Li, whilst Ivor Houlker played resounding rhythms on various instruments perceived as found objects, also making reference to the construction sites seen previously, an oil drum and a metal pipe for example. 

Houlker performed as a God-like character, the leader/instructor, instigating many of the lighting changes using a simple motif as the cue for both lighting and performers to react to. There was some reference to Greek mythology on the tour and after the post show discussion I was told that some of the text in the second part was also based on Greek mythology and how it related to the Mouse Utopia experiment. 

The lighting created changeable boundaries and guidelines for the ‘subjects’ to perform in, changing performance size and space efficiently sometimes during a sequence. The performers were physically strong and their movement was clean and well executed; there were some really beautiful choreographic moments from highly physical movement to simple walking patterns. It wasn’t until the walking pattern was performed for the second time that I realised it was the same pattern as the one we were instructed to carry out in the first, tour part of the performance. I wondered how much quicker the group observing us realised this because they’d seen a form of it before. As a whole, the show was clever and thought provoking, the performance well rehearsed, slick and very engaging – I wish I had the chance to go again and take the tour in a different group for a different view point.