Review: Babelle et barbarie (Collectif BUS 1.2.3.)

Photo of Barbelle et barbarieCollectif BUS 1.2.3 presents Babelle et Barbarie at Toronto’s Winchester Street Theatre

As technology becomes part of our lives, how do we, as people, understand ourselves?  Babelle et Barbarie by the Collectif BUS 1.2.3. playing at the Winchester Street Theatre is a multimedia, multi-lingual performance that wants to  examine the relationship between technology and identity.

Unfortunately, in the service of technical exploration the performance manages to lose itself in the presentation.

What starts out with a visually stunning music, sound, and poetry recitation unfortunately fades into a marginally interesting, if thematically confused examination of the question “amidst the chaos of information, how do we, the general public, define ourselves as individuals?”

My sister described Babelle et Barbarie as “when you have to put one of everything into something.” In its ambitious approach to creative exploration, the show becomes an amalgamation of scenes that never quite add up.

She hated it and I can understand why even if I personally disagree. Babelle et Barbarie may have started with a question of identity but it’s much more interested in visual and dramatic tricks at the expense of anything thought provoking. Instead, the audience is presented with something more like a showcase: a series of vignettes that are occasionally fun to watch but don’t serve any purpose.

The performers, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Dominica Merola, Kevin Kelly, and Adriana Monti are fun to watch when they are given the chance to act. The sound design, including the music composed and sung by Merola, is fantastic, doing everything from traditional melodies to nicely accenting small moments of video and performance. Early on, the set incorporates three desks, magnifying glasses, and rolling chairs for some great effects that were genuinely cool to watch before being discarded.

Babelle et Barbarie has great elements but it’s refusal to focus can make it feel self-indulgent instead of experimental or innovative.

When the elements combine, there’s some wonderful cohesion. One section is presented, for example, as a lecture on language. Ideas from the lecture are enigmatically highlighted through projections. The lead lecturer speaks French but she is accompanied by one interpreter using sign language and another speaking English. Rather hilariously, neither interpreter can quite keep up with the French lecturer who has her own impassioned idea about language.

The entire segment uses the actors, the sound, and the projections to emphasize a single point. When the English and French are spoken in tandem, it’s hard to follow because it requires you to focus on an individual voice. The projections offer only bits of insight for the audience by giving only select information that is just as confusing. Here the collection of ideas became an instantaneous moment of communication that highlighted how hard it is to cross multiple languages while incorporating media.

In the described moment, we get this singular instant to connect everything without being vague, or distracting. Babelle et Barbarie has the capacity to be memorable but gets lost in the details so that it fails to build something unique, both as a show and as an artistic commentary.


  • Babelle et Barbarie plays until September 5th at the Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester Street)
  • Shows run until September 5th at 8pm
  • Tickets are $10 for seniors, artists, and students, and $15 for general admission; for other methods of payment, please visit the website for details
  • Tickets can be purchased online here or at the Winchester Street Theatre prior to performance
  • On Thursday September 3rd, there will be a post-show discussion on multilingual theatre

Photo of  G. Leckey, D. Banoun, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Kevin Kelly, and Adriana Monti by Marc leMyre