LONDON – I can still remember the first time I saw Siro-A. The six-strong team of acrobatic techno-wizards marched out on stage at London’s quaint Leicester Square Theatre in an assault of thumping beats, dazzling lights and laser beams. Kitted out in white PVC jumpsuits and the kind of mono-lens visors that Data from “Star Trek” would wear, it felt as if I’d fallen into a portal to the Neo Tokyo often fantasized about in cyberpunk.
Twenty months on, I’m sitting in the same theater, maybe even the same seat. It’s the opening night of Siro-A’s third three-month stint in London — by far the longest series of Japanese commercial runs the West End has ever seen. The six artists enter the stage in exactly the same fashion as before, PVC and all, and I’m instantly transported to the future once more.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Their opening segment is testament to that, and offers a wonderfully imaginative crash course in what to expect in the rest of the 70-minute show. Moving images are projected onto the stage, and Siro-A, along with whatever they’re carrying, become the canvas as a playful session in virtual reality unfolds. One moment they’re a band playing instruments that aren’t really there, the next they’re recreating the opening level of “Super Mario Bros.” – sound effects and all.
While projection-based theater is nothing new, Siro-A take it to such exhilarating, reality-bending levels it’s easy to forget that lasers and projectors are involved at all in this digital performance that runs like clockwork. Though the absolute precision and sheer technical skill is guaranteed to impress, the fact that it’s delivered with such charm and humor makes it all the more special.
Once the opening segment has passed and the audience has begun picking up what’s left of their brains from the back of their seats, Siro-A are already into their next skit. The speed is relentless and disorientating, and together with the seamless use of visual trickery the audience is continually caught off guard and left with no chance to mentally process what they have just witnessed or best-guess how a routine was performed. If you tried, you’d miss the next section.
Siro-A is in the spirit of the classic 1982 sci-fi movie “Tron” — if that tale of a software engineer trapped in a mainframe and trying to program his way out were
reworked by Nintendo in the spirit of its famed fast-paced video-game series “WarioWare,” where players face a multitude of mini-games in quick succession.
Should those references have made sense to you, then you’d be grinning the whole way through this show — not least because of the nods to retrogaming sprinkled throughout. If not, it’s no problem; it’s all designed in a such a way that it’s near impossible to not be entertained.
The new material is also nothing short of genius. One section sees the cast re-enact famous film scenes using nothing but themselves and text. At one point they’re dodging multiples of the word “bullet” in homage to “The Matrix,” in another they’re recreating the iconic dance scene from “Singing In The Rain” — with “splash” being flung around as a cast member does his best Gene Kelly tap-dance around the word “lamp post.”
And when they finish the segment with a textual take on Disney’s 2013 megahit animation movie “Frozen” (titled “Anna to Yuki no Joou” in Japan — which translates as “Anna and the Snow Queen”), the entire audience erupts in laughter accompanied by one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night. It’s applause that’s likely set to be erupting in Japan, too, when a likely tour in early 2015 is announced soon.
Meanwhile, I happened to be sitting behind the English actor Warwick Davis, there with his wife and son and a friend of his son. Davis has been busy on screens large and small ever since landing a role in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” as Wicket the Ewok when he was a child. He found that Siro-A brought back those feelings he had when he first became interested in experimenting with film.
“I had my first video camera when I was about 12, and I used to mess about with filming an image for TV and then interacting with that image — but this takes that kind of concept to a completely new level,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to remember what I just witnessed. There’s just so much to digest. I’m guessing by tomorrow morning I’ll have registered it all. Hats off to that — they deserve a show in Vegas.”
Then his 9-year-old son, Harris, chirped in, “It was really good! I loved the bit with the shadows, where he’s chasing a dot, and suddenly everything starts spinning around! There was one point where it felt like he was really levitating too!”
“Siro-A” runs till Jan. 11, 2015 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. For details of Siro-A in Japan, visit siro-a.com. They are also regular guests on NHK Educational TV’s “Nihongo De Asobo” — see www.nhk.or.jp/kids/ program/nihongo.html.
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