Sasha And Sasha
Perhaps I should have mentioned it earlier but the 2010 LIFT festival started the other week (that is the 2010 London International Festival of Theatre festival, ATM machine fans). As usual, there was very little in the programme to interest me and, as usual, I still ended up going to a couple of shows.
The first of these – Best Before at the ICA – confirmed all my fears. My wife assured me that the company, Rimini Protokoll, were brilliant but what they served up was deeply half-arsed. Every audience member had a control that allowed them to move a little avatar on the screen above the stage and to make individual and collective decision about their development. You might think that these decisions would accumulate and have unexpected consequences and maybe highlight moral issues about the way we live our lives. Well, no. That might well have been the intent but the piece was so under-developed that this only occured at the most superficial level and was then immediately forgotten. This was all directed from the stage by “non-professional performers” who also interspersed their own reminiscences. There is another word for non-professional performers and that is amateurs and I am unsure why we were expected to pay to see this amatuerish rubbish.
Afterwards I was grilled by a nice young Canadian in short shorts doing market research. Once I had unloaded about the general shitness of the production, she asked what I would like to see from LIFT. The obvious answer was BITE but that would have been a bit churlish since a) it already exists and b) the Barbican nicked the idea from LIFT in the first place. Instead I garbled something about less gimmicks and a focus on actual writing. Last night I got my wish. Or half of it, at least.
Oxygen is exactly the sort of thing I want to see LIFT put on: new writing from an international playwright, in this instance Russia’s Ivan Vyrypaev. It is a two-hander, translated into English by Sasha Dugdale and performed by two actors from the RSC. Unfortunately the RSC doesn’t appear to teach microphone technique so Dharmesh Patel kept holding the mic much too close to his mouth. Otherwise I like both him and Sophie Russell. Everyone else I was with thought Russell was much too incongruously stagey but I think this is to ignore her changes in register and also the dynamic between two characters where she is the sophisticated Moscovite in contrast to Patel’s more overtly street small town boy.
The sense of the street – not to mention the sense of Russia – was provided by Top 9 and DJ Hobot sharing he stage with the two performers. So sort of a gimmick. However, director Deborah Shaw managed to integrate it a lot more successfully than in some productions I’ve seen. The play is structured as an album with ten individual so generally you get a bit of breaking and then the two actors and maybe a bit more breaking as punctuation, all conducted by Hobot at the back.
In contrast to Best Before, this was a cummulative experience; the structure could seem trite – and to begin with when it seemed it was going to ape the ten commandments I was really worried – but both the writing and the performance deepens as it goes. There was a problem though. Now, I know I’m becoming a stuck record on this but really, would it be so hard for the audience to just shut the fuck up? No one goes “yeah, man, wicked sollioquy” and bursts into applause in the middle of a play so why do it for physical rather than verbal expression? It reduces everything to the level of trick rather than an integrated part of a performance. Perhaps it is time to call a moritorium on breaking until audiences can grow up.