There, I said it. Now, I know these sort of artform subdivisions are always clumsy and mean different things to different people, but for this purpose it's a useful shortcut. Maybe I'll write about where I draw the lines another time. Draw a map or something.
But not right now. It would be way too boring. So I hope you can deal with the generalisation for a teensy bit longer. Just in case you can't though, here's an alternative, but related venn diagram I found on the internet:
Generally speaking, I DO NOT like what is commonly known as PHYSICAL THEATRE. But not having seen any professional PHYSICAL THEATRE for a while, I thought I'd better make the effort and check I wasn't missing out on lots of spectacular stuff by making such broad sweeping judgments. So I asked a friend who's more tuned in to this kind of work, to recommend me a few things from the Tobacco Factory programme. Then I made the decision and bought the tickets, so I couldn't wuss out at the last minute.
People Show 118: The Birthday Tour
Wednesday, 31 October 07Created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the People Show, this felt like a good opportunity to at last see a show by the grandaddies of British experimental theatre. I know I said I wasn't going to go into artform distinctions, but seeing this show, I was struck by how far British experimental theatre has shifted in shape - with People Show now sitting more clearly in the "physical/visual theatre" bracket than the "experimental theatre" one.
It's always good to see really well-honed performance skills on stage and there were some lovely, clever touches in the writing and the staging; but overall, I was never drawn into it. There was a lot of clumsy, unnecessary moving around of the audience. I think you have to be so careful when you start giving audiences instructions - it's immediately distracting as a tactic. I think it works much better if you can make the audience feel like they are choosing to move with you, rather than being herded around (which is kind of how this felt). From what I could gather, some of the audience enjoyed the novelty of moving through different spaces... which reminds me how lucky I am to see the range of performance I do. It would be fair to say that at least half of the performance work I see doesn't involve me sitting in a seating rake, in the dark or even in a theatre. Whether that's a good or bad thing, it certainly means that the gimmick of simply displacing from the 'stage' is just not enough for me anymore.
There were some beautiful, lush staging and set design at the end of the show, but the pillars in the Tobacco Factory prevented me from seeing the whole picture at any one time. But for me,
the real problem was the constant "Did you get what I just did then? >>wink-wink<<" at the audience. I'm really not a fan of the kind of extended gestures that seem to characterise physical theatre (yeah, thanks Lecoq, thanks a bundle...), and to my mind, this is made about a MILLION times worse when the actors give you that little look, or that little pause as if to say, "Did you see what I did just then?>>wink-wink<<" AAAAARRRGH. It really frustrates me that some areas of theatre still thinks it's ok to do stuff that's 'on the nose', in a way that you'd never get away with in film or TV. Although, if you're into that kind of thing, it still seems to be running rife through radio comedy drama. The People Show are nowhere near as unsubtle with it as a company like Told By An Idiot (I'm sorry, I hate them. I know they're good at what they do, but I hate what they do). It just frustrates me that the clever, subtle elements - of the writing in particular - were overshadowed by the performance style and clumsiness of the structure.
Jo Stromgren Kompani: The Convent
Thursday, 1 November 074 mad Norwegian women with crazy faces doing great slapstick dressed as nuns.
I really enjoyed this show. It was exquisitely put together. The vocal work was fantastic, ranging from weird gibberish conversations to a capella choral harmonies, all mic-ed up to resonate thickly in the space. It was like watching a good old-school cartoon. It was all in its own world, and all played with complete conviction - despite its absurdity. I know it doesn't work for everyone, but I'm a sucker for good slapstick and this made me laugh a lot.
It was useful to see it right on the heels of the People Show and it really helped me clarify why I didn't engage with the show the night before. Sure, The Convent was light and inconsequential, but it was also a world richly realised and clear with its own rules. It was a great ride. The People Show piece seemed all about undermining its own conventions as the main point of the show (using the company's experiences/history as a loose backbone), which I think is a pretty dated concept now, and not very interesting in itself.