During this unprecedented time (well, everybody else keeps using that phrase, so why shouldn’t I?) I’ve had occasion to review a fair number of online productions (180+ in fact) and I’ve tried to do so fairly but more importantly positively. I’ve seen this as my way of trying to support a struggling industry and art form, reminding people that there is content out there to be accessed and encouraging audiences, participants and venues to keep the flag flying. However, regretfully I’m finding it hard to be positive about my latest experience which is Things We Chose To Save by the company Clown Funeral.
The piece is a four hander set slightly in the future when a thrusting tech company has devised a way to capture memories by recording and storing them (never mind the actual mechanics of the process) but in typical dystopian fashion the initial idea to benefit mankind turns sour. There’s a whole lot in the piece about family ties, privacy, the rights of the individual and the power of giant corporations but I never felt the ideas particularly meshed and that it seemed like a work in progress rather than the finished article. The video contains no credits at the end, neither could I find anything on the website listing the actors or creatives, so it makes it impossible to comment on individual contributions. Whoever was playing the company boss did a fine job of creating a character with hidden depths and the other three actors provided solid support. That said I did find the acting rather flat and one dimensional – largely this was down to a script in which the stakes simply weren’t high enough to make me care. The setting was quite ingenious using a series of cubes and light boxes to designate the various locations – again, credit is due but I’m unable to say to whom.
My main criticism, though, is that the actual filming was inadequate. I’d already seen and largely enjoyed another piece of Clown Funeral’s called The Murderer and this was the reason that their other two available pieces had remained on my short list for later viewing. Admittedly it’s taken me some time to get back to them but there’s just been so much else to cover over the last few months. Now, I don’t suppose for a minute that this video was ever meant to be particularly representative of the company’s work and as it was filmed in 2017 it may well be that a public release of any sort was never envisaged. There have been a whole strand of releases which were originally made for production records (so called archive recordings) that have since been drawn on when other content has been used up – Leicester Curve’s What The Butler Saw is one such and even the National Theatre’s Barbershop Chronicles fell into this category; in both cases this loss of quality is flagged up.
But the filming of Things We Chose To Save presents the viewer with particular difficulties. Far too much is filmed from such a distance that the actors become little more than stick figures and as a lot of the lighting comes from hand held devices important moments are lost. There are closer shots but all these reveal is that the soundtrack is out of synch and that words emerge after mouths have stopped moving. I did momentarily wonder whether this was deliberate and was making some sort of point about communication but decided not (apologies if I was right first time). There were also a couple of annoying sequences where the choice of shot meant I was looking at someone’s back while the actor conversed diagonally across the space- meaning the other actor couldn’t be seen either. Maybe the video should be advertised with the same sort of disclaimer that would be used in the theatre, i.e. that there is a restricted view. The whole thing left me wondering whether the company might not have done better to keep this particular video as archive for themselves rather than hazard reputational risk by putting it into the public domain. Clown Funeral clearly produce the sort of work that needs to be seen in a live situation and I fervently hope they can get back to such a scenario in the near future. Perhaps like the tech company in their play, more careful thought needed to be given as to what to put before the critical eye of the online viewer.
Things We Chose To Save is available on You Tube. Click here
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