Thursday, 26 October 2017

victory condition

The magic of this show is that it’s description – an intercut monologue between one woman in an office who may actually be having a brain haemorrhage and a soldier looking through the lens of a sniper rifle who may just be playing a videogame – is really clear and simple and isn’t a lie at all. But that the experience of the thing is completely inarticulable [which makes this a fucking hard thing to write about but I’ll press on obliviously].

These two monologues play out by actors who are returning and unpacking from a holiday in a metrochic apartment in a metrochic world from nowhere. They simultaneously are the people whose monologues they are speaking and are not. The dislocation is at once absorbing and chilling.

People often talk about how you show don’t tell – I wonder whether this is why the reviews have been so insipid and trite and generally fucking dumb – but this show tells, tells, tells, never showing, but it grows out of itself and clogs up your mind. You are never sure where you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to think. Careful attention rewards you with images that make your eyes pop and ideas that seem to unlock the thing but only so far, only until it veers off in another direction entirely and you find yourself on cracking ice.

Which would be to suggest that this was some sort of mythic, metaphoric experience. But I think what’s powerful about it – and different in form to Anyone’s Guess which I saw the day before and even Kane’s work, to which it bears interesting comparison – is that Thorpe’s world is working towards photorealistic narration. The absurdity is in the direction and occasionally in the world but there is never a loose image, we are never supposed to disbelieve.  

There is a moment where the sniper describes the way that the nervous system of humanity has accreted extra layers, so that information takes longer to pass through it and though it still will get through it takes longer to respond. The show for me is a re-re-reiteration of this experience: there’s too much information, going too quickly, from and to too many places, and even if that isn’t true, even if we can argue about whether this is good or bad, it feels terrifying and disorienting; it feels like time and space are collapsing and ubiquitous screens are as bad at telling us about the other side of the world as trying to turn the contrast and brightness up on a blurred out image: it doesn’t get clearer, just brighter.

All of which is a way of saying that I fucking loved this play. I think it’s exactly the sort of response we need right now: complicated, poignant, difficult, intensely theatrical, fucking beautifully written and performed and directed. Short! It was an hour long! David Hare can go sit in a bin and whine about how it’s not a real play for three hours, while Chris and Caryl get bevved and high five in the bar when they are out at 3.30 after their matinees.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Anyone's Guess How We Got Here

Two women are telling a story about two women travelling in a car in the midlands, towards a funeral, but first they will make a pitstop at one of their childhood homes – now abandoned. In the house they look for an object, an object that may be an absence or may be a body, memories, residues resurface – a story about a fox condenses as a story about a bailiff’s dog – but the object is not found, if they were ever searching at all: the house is then torn apart to its material value, ripped apart and the journey continues. The play is about debt.

There’s a beautiful question – in a play full of beautiful questions – where the performer describes the house being sold for half what they paid for it and asks “where does that value go?” It seems to me that the play really complicatedly revels in that question: if one follows a causal chain – chains, personal and invisible, through time – to its source, what does one find? Where does the transaction lead, where does debt/story exist as material fact? And the ultimate answer is, of course, nowhere.

I’ve been thinking about Mark Fisher a lot, as ever, and this play seemed steeped in his theoretical background, exploring the “eerie spectre of capital” through form – a tangled plot without a centre, a story that seems to infect itself and spiral in chaotic but sensually necessary directions – and it really affected me and got my brain whirring.

And what’s of course both to be praised and to be quibbled-over about this is that it is not – not really – Barrel Organ-y. I mean, of course, it is [what an idiotic thing to say *of course it is*] – it’s riddled with hyper-liveness, its never loud and showy, its almost always spare and careful and porous – but this is such a different form of a show, much grander and richer texturally than either SPTAV or Nothing, both of which were beautiful shows, but were pared back to their barest needs. Whereas here, one delights in the big-ness of the thing: the almost overbright dexterity of its language, its gaudy plenitude.

However, the corollary to my praise, is of course, a reticence, a disappointment: there was a moment it had me and lost me, when it sought to wrap up in a narrative bow the problematics it had addressed and tied in knots. The formal, phenomenologically felt idea of debt as absent actant, became explicated away, as the narrative served to just demonstrate narrativistically that, oh yeah, home repossession is really rubbish. The funeral story was endstopped as we learned that, yeah, the girl’s father was in debt and that’s the story. So, you stop unravelling, doubt and centre-less-ness cede to surety and narrative satisfaction.

And. Well, it felt a bit flat for me, after all that wrangling, that the show resolved to fixelf, when it had exerted so much of itself to a much more fruitful, polyvalent theoretical vein.

Ultimately, however, the performances are fantastic, the writing really piercing at its best, and the majority of the direction well-placed (I sometimes do wonder with this company if they do just need to think *a little* harder now if all their decisions aren’t predicated on “that’ll be cool, let’s do that” and have a greater rigour behind them – I’m looking at you feathers mercilessly nicked from the Yard – but that’s perhaps unfair).

But I basically think there’s a properly extraordinary show that makes no sense, glittering under the swaddling cloth of a show that makes far too much sense for its own good.


Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here is on at the glorious CPT right now. Amber gave me a ticket despite the fact she had “never heard of me”, which was real nice.

P.S. I’m just going to pop some Fisher down here at the bottom because we all need more in our lives and if you haven’t read Weird and the Eerie, it’s a beautiful headscratcher that I think will open up Anyone’s Guess more than I can and have:

A sense of the eerie seldom clings to enclosed and inhabited domestic spaces; we find the eerie more readily in landscapes partially emptied of the human. What happened to produce these ruins, this disappearance? What kind of entity was involved? What kind of thing was it that emitted such an eerie cry? As we can see from these examples, the eerie is fundamentally tied up with questions of agency. What kind of agent is acting here? Is there an agent at all? These questions can be posed in a psychoanalytic register — if we are not who we think we are, what are we? — but they also apply to the forces governing capitalist society. Capital is at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity. 
The metaphysical scandal of capital brings us to the broader question of the agency of the immaterial and the inanimate: the agency of minerals and landscape for authors like Nigel Kneale and Alan Garner, and the way that “we” “ourselves” are caught up in the rhythms, pulsions and patternings of non-human forces. There is no inside except as a folding of the outside; the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was. The shudder here is the shudder of the eerie, not of the unheimlich.