Electric Dreams

By James Flint, 13 January 2004
Image: Teatrino Clandestino, The Magic Idealist

James Flint on Teatrino Clandestino'sThe Magic Idealist at the Riverside Studios

It's around about 1850, and two men and a woman are peddling their wares around Europe in a covered wagon the sides of which fall away to reveal... a laboratory. For these are no normal tinkers or entertainers; what they are selling is a far rarer thing than any mere object. What they are selling is... electricity. While one of the men pumps a foot organ and narrates, the other man – the maestro – and his female assistant demonstrate the extraordinary powers of the incorporeal spark, courtesy of Winslow Influence Double Rotation Machine.

You're confused, I can tell. So was I, for a while, but Teatrino Clandestino's candlelit recreation of a nineteenth century electrostatic evening, The Magic Idealist, part museum piece, part scientific lecture, part melodrama soon put an end to all that. The Bologna-based theatre group spent most of last year touring their creation around European science museums and science festivals; in October they spent a week at the Riverside in London. Besides reminding us how people first encountered electricity, long before it was put to any practical use, and rooting around in the philosophy of science into the bargain, the evening included illusionist stunts such as levitation, disappearance, setting light to lamp oil with a finger spark, and an attempt to electrocute the entire audience. Marvellous.

Riverside Studios[]Teatrino

James Flint<jim AT>