42

42

Regular theatre going can provide moments of complete and utter contrast and yet there are often unexpected links too. Last week within the space of 24 hours I found myself watching a stage adaptation of a very adult oriented novel and then the following afternoon a highly unique children’s show. Not much to link together there you might be thinking.

Wednesday evening’s offering was Tower Theatre’s production of Trainspotting based on the famous novel by Irvine Welsh and the probably even more famous film by Danny Boyle. As expected this was a forcefully pungent slice of life among the drug addicts of Edinburgh delivered with comic brio. Billed as a no holds barred, in your face immersive production it was certainly that; though fortunately the infamous “worst toilet” segment wasn’t too immersive! The central figure Renton constantly questions if his life has meaning, purpose, or value – a full on existential crisis, if you will and this provided the link to the young people’s show the next day. Here’s my review:

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As we all know London is pretty much on full alert these days. However, I did find it a little worrying that there apparently needed to be a glowering security guard standing in the foyer of children’s theatre the Unicorn. I had gone there to see the interestingly titled The Show In Which Hopefully Nothing Happens aimed at 6 – 12 year olds, so his presence seemed a little over the top. As it turned out I needn’t have been concerned for security guard Nigel Barrett was actually part of the performance. This turned out to be the first of many surprises this joyfully gleeful show had to offer; it was an absolute treat from start to finish.

Hopefully1It is a seemingly slow and tedious experience on the surface; the play starts with a three minute pause during which the audience sits and stares at a bare stage – Pinter would be proud. However the piece’s title is, of course, totally misleading. Actually the hour’s playing time is stuffed with more challenging ideas than the average adult drama. Theatrical notions about character, conflict, detail, entrances and exits, props, costumes, technical aspects and so on are rigorously yet hilariously examined. Repeatedly the audience are wrong footed and although it is difficult to describe what takes place, in the spirit of the show I’ll give it a whirl…

A performer, Riad Richie, attempts to carry out his assigned yet non-specified role which he finds very difficult as the only door on stage has been locked, bolted and alarmed. When he finally does gain access, following some prolonged DIY and setting off the alarm in the process, he meets the belligerent intransigence of jobsworth security guard Nigel who at first tries to prevent him from doing anything but then gradually finds himself sucked into proceedings. Soon Nigel is looking after a pet turtle, wearing bits of furniture on his back and a coffee pot on his head (don’t ask) and chasing around like a thing possessed. In one memorable sequence he even finds himself playing hide and seek with himself (no really, don’t ask).

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Meanwhile Riad is having an existential crisis as he mourns the passing of a dead “moment” and searches vainly for other key dramatic “moments”; one of these is also portrayed by Nigel (as I keep on saying, don’t ask). At this point the play develops a bizarre logic all of its own as matters spiral out of control and a “Groundhog Day” type scenario is repeatedly played out. We also get an interminably slow version of “The Flea Waltz” (yes, you DO know it) on a piano keyboard which ultimately falls apart, a mysteriously balanced pot plant, lessons in lettuce chewing, the use of power tools, trickery with lights and sound and a delightful procession of small paper mannequins (the “happenings”) with accompanying commentary. All of this is played out on an appropriately bare plywood covered stage with minimal props but high levels of imagination. The piece is clearly heavily influenced by the clowning tradition at which the Europeans are so good and which in the wrong hands can be very unfunny and even deathly – here it is anything but.

The show is devised and created by Dutch theatre wunderkind Jetse Batelaan and his company Artemis Theatre, though the two performers are from the UK. The duo’s deadpan delivery and timing is spot on as the manic metatheatrics increasingly twist and turn. The young audience – a shout out to Grange Primary School near Tower Bridge – loved every minute of it and joined in vociferously trying to solve the conundrums with which they were presented. Considering the complexity of some of the concepts they were faced with their level of connection was superb. I too was unexpectedly captivated by this piece, finding it by turns intellectually stimulating and hilarious. I highly recommend this production and can’t help thinking that Samuel Beckett would definitely have approved. *

Waiting For Godot, Beckett’s existential masterpiece, famously begins with Estragon’s line “Nothing to be done” and this well might stand as a summation of the feelings of Renton, Nigel, Riad and no doubt many of the audience (children excepted). Drama has the power to sum up the human experience and both of these productions, in their varied ways, managed to achieve this for me …. I’m even beginning to question why I’m writing this blog!

42POSTSCRIPT In case you’re wondering what the title of this post has to do with anything, let me explain. This entry marks my 42nd post on this blog but also it is, of course, the answer to the ultimate existential question of life, the universe and everything.

POSTSCRIPT In case you’re wondering what the title of this post has to do with anything, let me explain. This entry marks my 42nd post on this blog but also it is, of course, the answer to the ultimate existential question of life, the universe and everything.
POSTPOSTSCRIPT Just in case anyone’s counting (why would you be? ) the subsequent deletion of two earlier posts actually makes this entry number 40. However, the above was true at the time of writing ….and in another universe/dimension somewhere it is still, undoubtedly, number 42. So long and thanks for all the fish!

* An edited version of this review first appeared on the LTR website
Production photos: Camilla Greenwell

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