By: Martin Crimp
Directed by: Katie Mitchell + company
Venue: Lyttelton Theatre
Date: Thursday 10th May 2007
This was dreadful. Not all the way through, but it’s an hour and three quarters I’ll never have back again.
The performance style was based on modern media. The actors didn’t play specific characters, instead they morphed in and out of various roles, as well as moving cameras and lights around, filming other actors, then becoming the focus of the cameras themselves. There was a huge screen lowered down so the audience could see what was being filmed, intercut with footage shot previously and with pictures layered and superimposed. All very technical, but to what end?
The general idea seemed to be to look at the role of women in our media-driven society, and particularly issues around women committing suicide. There was no specific woman – it’s any woman. There’s a good section looking at the use of women as sexual objects of desire in advertising, in this case, advertising a car. The advert (in Russian?) was translated into English, so we could get the humour. At the end, the usual caveats are scrolled across the screen, and the combination of these over pictures of a sexy woman, make it clear that we’re not meant to read the words – it’s the advertising equivalent of small print.
Another good part was the Abba imitation – the style is as for one of their Eighties’ hits, but the words are much tougher. The police interrogation sketch didn’t work so well for me – there have been so many comedy send-ups, never mind Life On Mars, that I found most of it just boring. There was one good line, though, when the coppers are pushing this guy to sign his statement, and he says he hasn’t got a pen.
Apart from that, I enjoyed the Newsnight Review sketch, with recognisable imitations of regular participants, e.g. Germaine Greer. Otherwise, I could barely get through the turgid stuff that was passing for a theatrical performance. No criticism of the actors is intended, even though they participated in the staging. I just didn’t find this performance style remotely engaging, in fact, quite the reverse. The use of cameras, the screen, mikes for the actors, etc., meant the whole piece was distanced from the audience – we might as well have watched a film, and the actors might as well have been acting in an empty theatre for all the exchange that was going on between us.
The opening section showed a bit of promise. The prison doors of the stage curtain creaked open to reveal a vast open space, filled with the cameras, etc that took such a central role later on. All the cast are milling around, and finally come forward to talk through some ideas about a woman, like a group of creatives at an advertising agency. There are a few good lines, but mostly, it’s a jumble, and not at all clear where it’s going. However, I stuck with it (unlike one gentleman behind us), and, sadly, was disappointed. The chorus line effect was repeated at the end, only in an even more incoherent fashion, though as I’d pretty much lost interest by this time, I really didn’t care.
With no characters, plot or anything resembling a play taking place on stage, it was impossible to get involved in these performances or any of the issues raised. The distancing effects previously mentioned added to that, and I actually felt disrespected as an audience member, and increasingly irrelevant. For the first time, I chose not to applaud at the end. I will go a long way to avoid seeing anything this banal again.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me