Thursday, October 9, 2008

Review: There

The Loft, Festival Hub, The Lithuanian Club
Devised and Performed by Emily Tomlins and Angus Grant
Directed by Marcel Dorney
Until the 11th September
Presented by Elbow Room

People are saying very good things about this piece and with some good reason. It is very diverting and entertaining. 
It is, however, very cute. And that is both a good and a bad thing.
At its simplest level, 'There' reminded me of an old Aardman animation I remember called 'Adam', a very well executed creation allegory. 
And that's the thing - here we go - 'There' didn't feel like anything new. Let me say (and I'm not placating here) that it is all executed very, very well. It is funny, it is extremely entertaining, and I agree with Born Dancin' that it is, perhaps better if one goes in expecting and knowing nothing. But I had heard about this and heard that it is something I shouldn't miss. 
Now, I gotta say that I expelled a sigh of exasperation upon the revelation that these two 'blank slate' characters were actors. Jesus. Does this industry (and, yes, I use the term loosely) have to be so self reflexive and insular? Is there nothing more interesting in the world to represent? I understand that it was perhaps a mechanism used to achieve a degree of self-revelation and vulnerability, but the metaphor became hackneyed as soon as that revelation was made. This is well trod ground. The stage and actors as a representation of the world and humans. Didn't someone once suggest that 'All the world's a stage'? Who was it? (Sorry, I seen to have stepped in some facetiousness). 
There were some interesting teases after this point - there were a couple of good points made about gender roles within traditional theatre, but those points were dropped pretty quickly. There was a fantastic moment in which one of the characters became a vessel for the flotsam of consumerism, spouting an advertisement as if it were the word of god. Again, though, the notion seemed to be forgotten - humans and human intelligence as a product of the vast amounts of stuff we vomit into the ether.   Much complexity, whilst briefly addressed did seem to fall by the wayside in favour of simplicity and neatness. And that's what bothered me really. God knows, now, if at any point in history, we as a society understand the cost of existence. What it costs the world, other people, ourselves. This existentialism, this struggle was barely addressed, but I have to say there was a striking and all too brief final image that redeemed the piece somewhat. I just wish they had earned it a little more, forsaken laughs, cuteness and cleverness for some further truth. Lord knows they could have gone there. The audience was in the palm of their hand, they could have taken us anywhere. The final image was resonant, and true, but way, way too quick for me. 
As an antidote to exploratory, non narrative based, non linear performance it is probably refreshing. But, my friends, I likes me my non narrative based, exploratory performance. Sure it doesn't always work, in fact it probably doesn't work more than it does, but it mostly feels new, unique and truly brave. And I didn't get that from 'There'. It felt pretty damn safe and comfy, within the realm of, say, 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'. The theatrical metaphor was overstated and at no point did I ever genuinely question what was going on. There was no point of true chaos, or loss of control. I felt the performers and the audience always remained quite, quite safe.
It is, however, very, very well performed. The actors both have obvious skill. And it is funny. It just remained to be clowning for me - never moved beyond it - and had a little too much bathos. 
If you see it you won't be bored, you'll be charmed and entertained. I promise. 
The more I see in this festival, the more I reflect fondly upon 'Scattered Tacks' and hope, in my heart of hearts, that you can get to see it, if there are still tickets. 

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