“And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?” So wonders Walt Whitman at the end of the first stanza of his epic exaltation of man's flesh and bones, 'I Sing The Body Electric'. Body Electric begins far more pedestrianly, as Andrew Adamson arrives in the lobby on a tricycle and leads us to a physiotherapy lesson lead by Graham Dean, but the Collective Theatre Company has a far more ambitious design: to embody Whitman's song of the physical self.
The barefooted performers begin to spread around the sparse, dusty industrial recesses of Block T, drawing the unseated audience back and forth, but they are bound to collide. Two shirtless, muscle-bound performers (Eric Higgins and David Nolan) re-enact a heated wrestling match that Whitman had vividly described. Minutes later, they don boxing gloves and exchange body blows. But we're reminded that the body contains truths beyond pure physique. All real emotion – happiness, grief, ecstasy – is experienced physically as well.
Body Electric is not only about the body, though. Designer Petra Hjortsberg makes clever use of electricity as hanging lightbulbs direct the action and establish mood. The words are mostly Whitman's, and thus faultless. One wishes the poet were around to describe the internal raptures that this production would have ignited in him.