Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, September 26, 2008

Once And For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen - Traverse Theatre 23 August

Back to my delayed reviews of the final week of the festival. I'd booked for this piece of theatre because it looked appealingly off-the-wall. It was described as "a play that can only be performed by teenagers. It shows 13 youngsters who are rebellious, try to grasp themselves, behave aggressively, feel vulnerable, are cool, play like children, but are sometimes surprisingly adult." Written by Joeri Smet and Alexander DeVriendt (the latter also directed) it was performed by members of the Ontroerend Goed and Kopergietery companies from Ghent in Belgium. And it was fascinating. I kept wondering how Lyceum Youth Theatre (to which my son belongs) would tackle something like this. Especially if they had to do it in Flemish (this production was in English).

So, where do I begin? Where the cast do, perhaps, with thirteen chairs in a line at the back of the stage, and Velvet Underground's Waiting For The Man (live version) being belted out. The cast come in and sit on the chairs, in their individual ways and doing different things. Two boys are flicking each other with uninflated balloons, a couple are snogging, some are reading, doing make-up, chatting, arguing. There is some horseplay and a couple of chairs get knocked over, then the kids get up and do the kinds of things kids do at break times: one has a skateboard; two girls build a pyramid of plastic cups which another girl knocks over; a couple make a tunnel out of sheeting and crawl through it to meet in the middle and kiss. Lots of things. Then there is a klaxon, and they tidy everything away back to the start position and go off.

Then....they did it all over again, just the same, to the same music (except that repeats are never quite exact). In fact this section of the show was to be repeated several more times with far more significant variations. I took it to be symbolic of the approximately repetitive nature of much of a teenager's life at school. We had a variation where the cast danced though it ballet-style, to the Delibes music from Lakme that British Airways used to use in their ads. There was a variation where the cast came on, sat on the seats, and just read out their stage directions. (Most memorable bit was when the klaxon went, and three or four girls read out "Clear up", "Clear up", "Clear up", topped off by a boy whose parting throwaway line was "Pretend to clear up"). There was a stunningly clever variation where nobody came on at all: they just sent on their props. So the various toys, books, balloons etc were chucked onstage from all directions. The skateboard suddenly whizzed on followed by a hail of plastic cups. The really clever bit was that the props moved when they were onstage. The chairs were pulled over by a string, and some of the other props suddenly appeared to be moving by themselves (it turned out that people had crawled under the bleacher-type seating until they were right under the front seats, and reached through with rods and the like to move things. A real WTF! moment. The final variation had everything scaled up, so the boys were flicking each other with big elastic straps, the pyramid was made of plastic buckets, the normal skateboard was replaced by a huge snowboard-sized one, and so on.

In between the reappearances of the rondo theme, so to speak, there were contrasting episodes. A school-style disco danced to a piece called Donkey Roller. A snogging session to music, where the girl left when the music stopped and the boy was left with just other boys and tried to persuade them to experiment with kissing him. He suggested one of them join him in the crawling-through-the-tunnel business which he and his girlfriend did in the rondo sections. The other boy agreed, but then legged it once the first boy was in the tunnel and couldn't see him. An animated lump of person under a sheet can be very expressive of puzzlement, disappointment and resignation....! There was a nursery-style scene which led into what I noted down as the "Dick van Dyke" segment: "Honey, I'm home!" (an old-fashioned middle-class household of cliches) Then some of the kids hammed stuff up for a video camera. There was a shouty bit where one of the girls had a go at the audience (the adult world) for being in her face the whole time and never accepting that she could behave normally without being instructed to do so. That ended with her yelling at us all to BACK OFF! Then there followed what could best be called a rave: certainly a very druggy evening, with people reacting to the drugs in a variety of pretty realistic ways.

The final scene,apart fromhe scaled-up rondo variation, was a kind of continuation of the "back off" scene, with a different girl explaining that whatever limits her parents and other adults set for her, whether they were strict or lax, she'd test them all the time, because that's what being a teenager is about: pushing limits.

During the scaled-up variation the girls who had been doing each other's make-up at the beginning had "expanded" into a pair body-painting each other. Various other members of the cast ran round the audience drawing kisses on us, or sometimes just lines, with lipstick. The front row had been warned that they might get wet but that they'd be covered in sheeting, and so they were, though the water-cum-body-paint hazard level was pretty low in fact. Maybe the cast's aim was good the day I went.

It was an absolutely extraordinary piece of theatre, and if I hadn't seen it on practically its last day I might have tried to go again (probably unsuccessfully as it was selling out). It was one of those shows where you know with complete certainty that loads of things were going on that you missed; I have never seen anything remotely similar and I don't suppose I ever shall. Pure genius, and rather to my surprise I find that 66a Church Road has competition for my favourite show of the 2008 festival.

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