Planet Of The Grapes/The Gas Heart (Online review)

Planet Of The Grapes/The Gas Heart (Online review)

Although, inevitably, this reviews blog has concentrated on content emerging from the UK, I have tried to keep a wider sense of perspective by occasionally dipping into productions from other parts of the globe. I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface with this and that it would take an absolute army of reviewers to keep abreast of worldwide innovations in the field, so apologies to each and every production which I’ll never have a chance to get to. Probably my most frequent second port of call has been the US and a couple of theatrical innovators over the pond that I have been following with interest both have released new material recently. So, I thought it was time for one of my double bill evenings.


First up is Peter Michael Marino’s latest live show promisingly entitled Planet Of The Grapes and yes, it is based on the famous sci- fi film (the original that is, and definitely not the overblown Tim Burton reimagining). Marino has become fascinated with the toy theatre movement which reached the heights of popularity in Victorian Britain (Dickens was a fan) and was basically a way to create miniature theatre at home using paper cut outs, puppets and predesigned scenery. With theatres closed its revival could not be more timely and this show gives a sense of how it might be done – forget realism, this is child’s play in the very best sense of the phrase.

The storyline is probably well known enough for me not to rehash it here but, like all good sci-fi, the plot and themes throw much light on contemporary circumstances and concerns. So, it is pleasing to note that despite the lo-fi credentials of the production it does not shy away from some of the bigger philosophical notions which are posed. And when I say, lo-fi, I don’t mean that pejoratively. The scenery particularly is an ingenious homage to the rough theatre tradition using household objects and elementary crafting materials to achieve its effects often lit by torches (that’s flashlights to any transatlantic readers). There’s half a basket to represent a prison cell and did I detect pan-scourers being used as desert flora? And then there’s the cast, created out of grapes and wine corks (providing a nicely paralleled link between the apes and humans of the original). Interestingly it only took a minute or two to buy into the conceit and suspend disbelief though the occasional vitaceaelogical based pun reminds one that we’re in spoof territory here. This is a fun production which has taken the creator an age to painstakingly realise and becomes even more amazing when the fact that it’s all done live is taken into account.

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And if you’re slightly reeling from the notion that the whole concept is a bit weird, then I’d invite you to check out The Gas Heart (100 Years In Quarantine) if you want to know what seriously weird is like. Joshua William Gelb’s project Theater In Quarantine has been in existence for a year now (the one which uses a converted closet as an acting space) and, by way of commemorating this, has gone back to a play also celebrating an anniversary. 100 years ago, Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the Dada art movement wrote a piece which totally defied convention and indeed still does. It’s a stream of non-sequiturs issuing from six characters not so much in search of an author as they are of a plot line. They are designated as parts of the head – Eye, Eyebrow, Nose, Neck, Ear and Mouth though as we hear what they all have to say they must all have one of the latter – the Mouth therefore has a mouth (see what I mean about seriously weird?) Gelb plays them all dressed in what looks like a motion capture suit and appearing in various configurations. The piece is as filmed live and he’s able to interact with himself in this way due to loop capture – whatever that is.

Who knows what it is about? Certainly not the author who himself described it as “a hoax”. It’s full of gnomic utterances such as “The sky is closed” or “The beauty of your face is a certified precision chronometer”. Say what? Some sort of satire on classical Greek drama is suggested by the fact that it’s carved up into three acts (only ten minutes each) and the repeated references to Clytemnestra but as that character then seems to morph into a horse at a race meeting I’ve possibly got that completely wrong. There’s also some interesting choreography and one delicious in joke when one of the “characters” states “I am alone in a closet” – well, you got that right. The whole thing looks great and if you treat it as a visual art installation then you probably won’t be too disappointed. As a play though, not so much. I both loved it and hated it …. And that’s probably just the reaction the author and Mr Gelb would wish to achieve.

Planet Of The Grapes is available via its own dedicated website – click here

The Gas Heart is available on Theater In Quarantine’s You Tube Channel – click here

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For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)

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