I have tried over the last 20 months to make this reviewing blog for online material as wide ranging as possible and have covered a whole range theatre from mainstream big budget musicals to solo performances in the back rooms of pubs. While I can’t honestly say I’ve unreservedly enjoyed every single moment of what I’ve covered, even in some of the most challenging productions I’ve tried to remain positively constructive, but it may be that yesterday I finally met my match. From the little I could find out about Clout Theatre I realised that I was unlikely to find their work easy going but even so I was far from prepared for the onslaught that awaited. As neither was particularly long I sought out a pair of productions from the early half of the last decade which seemed to encapsulate their work.
First up was Various Lives Of Infinite Nullity which, insofar as it can be said to have a storyline, seems to be set in some sort of afterlife support group. The three characters introduce themselves and the manner of their deaths – they are linked by the fact that they are all suicides. They then engage in some bizarre one-upmanship where they give reasons for taking their own lives. Each of the three relive (!!) the moment of their deaths and then go through the repetition of dying all over again – there are disturbing scenes of strangulation and in one sequence a woman is buried alive – this, I may add, is not mimed. There’s some frankly baffling stuff which runs throughout about tea drinking. The mind boggling start of one character skipping while the other two blow bubbles through straws in small bottles returns at the end. Of course, it does, for this is a vision of a circular hell where suffering goes on ad infinitum. Fortunately, the performance does not.
During “the interval” (absolutely necessary) I did a bit of research into Clout. Notorious for work that is so far “out there” it’s in danger of meeting itself coming back, they are a small troupe formed by ex-alumni of the Jacques Lecoq school of physical theatre in Paris. This explained much. Lecoq aimed to shift conventional text based theatre to one more body centred through exploring the relationship between movement and acting (I’m putting it very very simply here, of course). On those terms the preceding piece could actually be classified as highly successful but I’m afraid this physical theatre take on Sartre’s Huis Clos left me feeling disconnected and disappointed. Nevertheless, I decided to press on with a second piece hoping that I might have a a Damascene conversion – but alas!
ActualIy, I did find a bit more to enjoy in How A Man Crumbled which, this time, seemed to take as its basis Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment. A young writer randomly murders an old woman and then has trouble disposing of the body while racked with guilt. However, this main storyline, if that indeed is what it is, is repeatedly interrupted by digressions and diversions many of which involve acts of violence and degradation. Much of the action is played out as though it’s a silent German expressionist film of the 1920s complete with dialogue cards; the lighting and sound design of Ben Teare and Filippo Ferraresi is a definite high point. And there’s some well timed physical black comedy with the dead body refusing to stay put inside a suitcase. The whole thing, though, is a brutal attack on the eyes and ears and considering that it’s largely a black and white affair there is little by way of light and shade in terms of character. The last five minutes of the piece seems to be from a different play altogether. Given that a big influence on the piece was Russian avant-gardist Danill Kharms this perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. In his world repetition and irrationality reign supreme and are tailor made for this sort of Theatre of the Absurd approach.
The same quartet are responsible for both pieces with Sacha Plaige, George Ramsay and Jennifer Swingler performing and Mine Cerci directing. They seem to be very good at what they do and if you’re into physical theatre you might well enjoy Clout’s output; but I’m afraid it just didn’t do anything for me. Boringly conventional though it may be I prefer something with a coherent plot, well developed characters and memorable dialogue even, as Beckett has demonstrated is possible, in absurdist drama. Both these pieces are full of maniacal laughter from the characters involved; the problem is that all the time I felt they were laughing at me for watching.