The Arches' artist in residence, Al Seed, is poised between horror and humour: his successful Festival piece, The Factory, exploited spiteful anxiety and apocalyptic slap-stick. In Hunger, he abandons black humour for physical savagery, evoking famine-starved bodies, mad scientists and the damned's foodless feasts. His emaciated body- and exquisite control of muscles that most performers don't even have - becomes a symbol of ravening anguish. Despite the inevitable knowing sniggers, Hunger is profoundly bleak, trapping Seed in a situation that cannot be resolved or ignored: it concludes with a shrug of indifference. Perhaps the Arches itself encourages Seed's journey into misery - this was the perfect match of venue and artist.
Another Arches' production dealt with the same combination of food, intimacy and terror from an accessible perspective. Pit features a mother cooking the final meal for her condemned son, blending hygiene advice with malnutrition and America's southern underclass. Again, the venue heightens the claustrophobia - actors walk around the audience, who are seated for a formal meal - while Megan Barker's script spirals mundane set-pieces into drug abuse and murder with shocking inevitability. Hunger is taut and vicious; Pit is compassionate and loose - at times meandering into vague commentary on deprivation but delivering a chilling conclusion.
Over at Tramway, Need Company were providing a perfect example of the expansive end of physical theatre. Jokingly introduced as musical comedy, Isabella's Room matched contemporary dance, dirty blues and a mesmerising central performance from Viviane De Muyack. The heroine, a blind geriatric, looks back at her sexual adventures (promiscuity, adultery and incest), her childhood and her academic anthropology (living in a room filled with African artefacts, she visits the country once and briefly). Understated and eloquent, morally neutral yet sympathetic, this astonishing show follows the impact of deceit on a single life. A cast of eccentrics, a stage cluttered with a collection that most museums would envy, and an overview of European politics in the twentieth century are merged into a satisfying, gentle narrative, slipping between dance and song, monologue and dialogue. Isabella's Room is a triumph, owning a fluidity and subtle grace that builds to a celebratory finale.
While the Christmas period is usually bereft of challenging art - carol singers and family shows fill the listings, and the misery of Winterval consumerism undermines the need for Al Seed's meditations on mortality - Tramway has the Breathing Space Programme at the start of the month. Gilmore Hill has Firebox and Blaze - a collaboration between local street dancers, contemporary choreographers and electronic musician Magic Daddy on 10th December.