One of the pleasures of online reviewing has been discovering new performers and writers which might normally go unremarked and being able to extend the boundaries of viewing material which might otherwise be a costly gamble. One such for me has been the work of Daniel Bye, an innovative theatre maker who always surprises. Having reviewed both Going Viral and The Price Of Everything and even “appeared” in his short piece Palm Reading, I’ve been a little hesitant about approaching How To Build An Oil Rig simply because once I’d done so then I have exhausted that particular rich seam. However, it had to be done sometime……
Unlike the other previously mentioned shows, How To Build An Oil Rig is a three hander in which deviser/creator Bye works with Kathryn Beaumont and Jack Bennett. This instantly gives a different dynamic to proceedings although the general tone is clearly in line with Bye’s other work. In this instance he riffs on the word “demonstrate” both in the sense of offering a set of instructions and with its more specific political meaning. The first aspect is kick started in the pre-show section by having each member of the audience fashion a plasticine model of themselves carrying a self composed slogan; these are then arranged into a tableau as though on a demo. This is an intriguing way to begin though (unless you do the same at home) it isn’t particularly rewarding for the viewer.
Two models are then randomly selected to become “characters” in the various practical demonstrations which follow. These “characters” are portrayed by members of the trio though not the same ones throughout (you have to follow the wigs). If all this sounds confusing that’s because on paper it undoubtedly is – it works in a live context though. This also introduces a secondary concern to the piece – namely how actors choose to represent characters and whether sticking to the facts or embellishing them makes for a more interesting theatrical experience. Bennett, or at least his onstage persona (complicated, huh?), seems keen to involve the character he is portraying (who is, you’ll remember, based on a real member of the audience – keep up!) in a rom-com regardless of what the person being portrayed may think. There’s a brilliantly meta moment when the entire audience is given the option to protest in whatever way they think appropriate if they disagree with the portrayal of the “characters”. Everyone sits tight in just that way that a British audience would do. Oh, how I longed for some of them to start a sit in on stage just to see what the performers would do in response.
But I digress. For this, as already indicated, is but a secondary concern – although is it? With Bye’s shows one is never quite sure. The main thrust of the piece is various short sections demonstrating how to carry out various political acts – a sort of Demoing For Dummies. These get increasingly complex and cover areas such as how to go on a political march, how to protest by occupying an office, how to deal with police brutality and so on. It is only in the last fifteen minutes or so that we get to the business of occupying an oil rig which, if correct, seems to be predicated on a lot of pre-planning and equipping oneself correctly. It’s difficult to say whether Bye and co are in earnest about the instructions and helpful tips they proffer or whether it’s all an elaborate game although therein, I think, lies the interest. The style is very much in the form you might see on Blue Peter or similar and as the show design (Lucy Crimmens) is based on an ingenious set of giant Lego pieces and the performers wearing dungarees, any actual political sting is quickly removed. That said, the ideas have been implanted and linger at the back of the brain.
While I wasn’t quite as enamoured by this piece as on previous occasions, it was still interesting to see Bye collaborating with other performers and bouncing off their input rather than just the audience with whom he tends to directly work. From the simplest of notions of an instruction manual for politicos he has built a multi layered and involving piece of contemporary theatre and worked his usual understated but thought provoking theatrical magic with the material. Although future work is, of necessity largely on hold, I’m already looking forward to what Daniel Bye comes up with next.
How To Occupy An Oil Rig can be accessed via Daniel Bye’s website. Click here
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