Saturday, May 9, 2009
project:ALICE | Review
project:ALICE was a mixed bag combining club culture, fashion, spoken word art and audiovisual elements to re make Lewis Carroll’s novel for Generation Y, using their (read our/my) experiences to reinterpret this classic work. Under the direction of Mark Haslam, performance poets Bravo Child and Cook ‘n’ Kitch embody in verse, monologue and hip hop an explosion of Alice’s character, searching for contemporary resonances with the “over stimulated generation”. This Alice is a club hopper, a pill popper, a traveler not a tourist, a myspace junkie and pretty fucked up as well.
The technical elements were superb, Toby Knyvett’s lighting design consisting of a semicircle of large poles with evenly spaced lights filling up the space, as if plucked directly from the Big Day Out, which functioned not just to light the performers but also as a constant counterpart to the pulsing rhythm of the sound design. The AV was (shock) brilliantly interwoven into the work as a multifaceted interface of televisions and computer monitors, vision was streamed live to it from mobile phones, the performers interacted with each other on the screens, a butterfly of light flitted across them and their unhealthy blue glow lit much of the action onstage. It was exciting to see the technology working inseparably from the work, instead of being a lazy tack on (see Ladybird review).
The performers were obviously more in their comfort zones when delivering poetry and relying simply on the pattern of words in their mouths without labouring them with actorly intention, which was a pity since it made the more personal moments of Alice’s monologues seem melodramatic. At these moments where I could have related to her experiences I balked. This was perhaps why I took such an issue with this work in the end.
I have a major problems with a work trying to define me, the blanket term Generation Y sits uncomfortably on my shoulders. By trying to tap into a zeitgeist the work ultimately became quite alienating and I left thinking that it just wasn’t made for me, but then maybe I need to club on pills more often. The closing moments offered not much more than the feeling of ‘we’re all individuals and it’s ok to be you’, which I found slightly naïve. It touched on contemporary malaise, listlessness and boredom, but I wanted to see this notion held up and examined, not put aside for Facebook jokes and more things that rhyme with clitoris. I don’t think the solution is that easy.
I didn’t feel as affronted by the content of this show. I felt the piece presented a mash-up of what the artists involved consider to be “Gen Y Experience” but at no point did it attempt to convince me that these were my experiences, although at times I found myself in them. A message of individualism emerged in the final scenes, however I engaged more with the striking word play it was embedded in, and came away from the piece with a sense of the stories and experiences, rather than the ideals, that were presented.
That being said, I dropped in and out of this performance and I think this was due mainly to the performances. In the beginning I was alienated by both performers. I found Bravo Child’s voice to be harsh and grating to the ear, whilst Cook ‘n’ Kitch seemed simply, for want of a better word, loud. I got the feeling I was being yelled at but wasn’t quite sure what I’d done to deserve it. As the show progressed, it became apparent that for Bravo, this had been a choice as he explored pretty much the entire range of his voice over the course of the performance, but for Cook ‘n’ Kitch, the volume continued. However, due to her complete dedication this became less of an issue. I found it fascinating watching two performers who completely owned what they were presenting. Cook ‘n’ Kitch’s "throw myself at every moment" style was often engaging, but it seemed to hinder the more nuanced moments of the show as Mark has already pointed out. When the performance and text matched the show was gripping. However, there were many times when the performers’ over the top style seemed to jar with the text and as a result I was immediately alienated.
A special mention needs to be made of the beautiful scene when Alice, unable to piece herself back together, climbs to the top of the jungle gym and lashes out at a TV resulting in a downpour of tiny crystals. It was a stunning image.
What is exciting about this work as an emerging artist however is the process. The play was devised by director Mark Haslam and the performers themselves. There are no actors in this work, you are often watching the writers themselves deliver the text, and all this is performed on an ethereal set which at times seemed as small as a TV screen and at others as large as a warehouse. The result was a raw work full of energy, which created some truly beautiful and some truly awkward moments but this is the nature of brave concepts. I enjoyed the risk.