When you are sitting in a theatre waiting in anticipation for a performance to begin, usually there is at least one guarantee – that you’ll know which way is up. Enter Leo, a mind-bending physical theatre piece performed at the Sydney Opera House by Y2D productions in association with Chamaleon Productions, where all assumptions about gravity are, quite literally, turned on their head.

A camera projects a screen replicate of the colourful box surrounding the single character Leo, played by French artist William Bonnet.  Leo, which has already conquered audiences around the world and received the ‘Best of Edinburgh’ award, sees Bonnet performing horizontally on his side for the most part, but to the audience watching the screen, it’s the right way up.  This creative trickery, made possible by the work of video designer Heiko Kalmbach, launches a world full of imagination and discovery, advertised for ages 8 to 108. When Leo is standing up straight leaning on a wall, in reality he is doing a one-armed handstand, displaying admirable core and upper-body strength.

William Bonnet in 'Leo' © Prudence Upton
William Bonnet in 'Leo'
© Prudence Upton

Armed with only a suitcase, a tie, and a top hat, Leo appears to be waiting for a job interview, idling away the time in silence. After prolonged stillness met with occasional fidgeting, he soon discovers what appears to be a magnetic wall sucking his body towards it. Even his tie and hat get stuck to the wall when thrown in the air, in a clever act of brain teasing. Next, he uses his hat in a rock-climbing manoeuvre to reach the top of the box, floating and spinning like an astronaut in a gravity-deficient spacecraft.

With inspiration from Mary Poppins and Mr Squiggle, the magical suitcase presents a water bottle that doesn’t spill when turned upside down and Leo finds a piece of chalk to draw his own illustrated world. It’s a lonely life confined to four walls, but with a few pets and a sprinkle of furnishings sketched in chalk, suddenly the box is brought to life and I am transported back to the experience of reading a childhood picture book. The magical suitcase also erupts with various musical tunes, taking on the role of jukebox as Leo responds with hip-hop break dancing spins, 1950’s rockabilly swing, a sudden mid-air meditative pose, and delicate ballerina footwork that hovers inches above the ground.

'Leo' © Prudence Upton
'Leo'
© Prudence Upton

In the hour-long show directed by Daniel Briere, there is not a corner of the box not explored by Leo, and superb control and calculated limb and body weight placement made strenuous positions seem relaxed and effortless when projected onto the screen. Bonnet hangs upside down from the very top of the walls and throws himself in all directions as the work builds to a crescendo, with looping videos duplicating Bonnet’s movements creating a Leo-blur. I long for him to draw a staircase or fighter jet in chalk to escape from the box he is encased in, or find a secret passage, or even be floated to the top by a surge of water.

Bonnet’s physical agility displayed in the stunts and his theatrical facial expressions were well received with delightful giggles from the youngest members of the audience, which always seems to further enhance the experience for the adults. It’s certainly difficult to compare with other full-scale dance productions, but for its unique concept and playfulness it’s a fun, family-friendly night out that teases the mind and leaves you with a newfound appreciation for feet placed firmly on the ground.