Empire – Pulse Fringe Festival

After the lights dim and the audience leaves what remains? In a deserted auditorium a ghostly singer, a musician and a solitary audience member run through one final cabaret performance, a performance that is likely to replay through eternity. In Empire, François Testory creates a dark, shadow world where the boundaries between reality and make believe, life and death all blur into one.

A performer slow drags himself off the floor and collects a discarded bunch of lilies. A solo spotlight shines on a small stage. An accordionist emerges from the shadows and begins to play.

Over the ensuing 50 minutes Testory delivers a series of plaintive torch songs to an invisible audience. Reminisant of a cross between Iggy Pop and Edith Piaf, his black clad chanteuse is strangely androgynous and other worldly. Much like ‘the little sparrow’ there is also a sense of frailty and loneliness about this performer, the spotlight and applause their only friends.

There is a plaintive, almost reverent feel to the musical numbers as well. Piaf’s Padam Padam merging into Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog and as the spotlight fades a chilling falsetto liturgical madrigal springs from the shadows.

Much of the story is left suitably vague to allow an audience to make their own interpretations but it does provide a subtle emotional punch.

Testory delivers a performance combining a subtle physicality with a surprisingly wide vocal range. Ian Hill’s accordion accompaniments add atmosphere while Simon Vincenzi’s direction focuses on character and atmosphere.

Empire is a subtle show that for those willing to work with it offers much.

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