Isabella Rossellini has made some interesting film choices in her time, that is for sure. Yet her latest incarnation, in the self-penned ‘Link Link Circus’ may be the most unusual of all her roles.
I had, quite literally, no idea what to expect from a production billed as a “theatrical lecture with a comic twist” and will hand over to Ms Rossellini’s host, the Southbank Centre, for an explanation: “This surreal new show is inspired by the animal world and based on scientific research. Rossellini transforms herself into Aristotle, Rene Descartes, a medieval theologian, Harvard Professor BF Skinner and Charles Darwin to explore, in her own unique way, what distinguishes humans from animals. She is joined on stage by her dog Pan, an outstanding supporting artist, who helps to turn ‘Link Link’ into a little circus.”
All of the above is true: Isabella Rossellini does indeed transform herself into a number of different characters and she is indeed joined by her dog (possibly the best–behaved hound I’ve ever encountered), as well as by Schuyler Beeman, who helps Rossellini bring to life the various sketches they perform. And it’s all, well…rather surreal.
The curtain lifts on a stage across which old-fashioned children’s toys are scattered – these, we find out later, replicate Rossellini’s childhood toys. There’s a collective intake of breath when she arrives on stage: at 66 years old, Rossellini remains as beautiful as ever (those cheekbones!). Introducing us to her beloved dog Pan, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini tells us: “She’s an actress – and so am I”. Beaming, she continues “Can an animal think and feel? There are so many opinions on this, it’s a circus. Welcome to the smallest circus in the world!” And so begins an entertaining – but baffling – show.
“Since I was a small girl”, Rossellini muses, “I’ve always wondered if animals can think and speak like us”. She then proceeds to show us some beautiful black & white footage of her childhood, including her interacting with her pets.
“When I grew up”, Rossellini continues, “I planned all my holidays around animals”. Cue more footage. “And as an adult, I played as many animals as I could”. Now this, I wasn’t expecting. What animals? When? Where’s Wikipedia when you need it?
The evening grew progressively more strange, with Rossellini , who these days lives on an organic farm, declaiming, “For a long time, scientists didn’t believe that animals meant anything through sound. But we now know that, according to what they see, an animal’s sounds change”. So far, so uncontroversial. She then goes on to declare: “In the past 50 years, scientists have proved that animals can learn. But what about play? Is playing a way to get ready for life: a rehearsal?”
A somewhat baffled (if still engaged) audience looked on as Rossellini wound up proceedings by declaring “Floppy ears are a sign of domestication – as is a patchy coat”.
There is, I think, no come back to that. So I will conclude this post with the remark of a fellow audience member who, as we were leaving the Royal Festival Hall, turned to her companion and remarked, wonderingly, “That must be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen”.