Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Spectacular (Arts House - Melbourne)

Created by Forced Entertainment (UK)

Spectacular is the latest work from UK theatre company Forced Entertainment, who this year celebrated 25 years together. The show is essentially one man in a terrible skeleton costume (Robin Arthur) describing a show that for reasons beyond our knowledge, and seemingly his, has failed to take place as usual. The set isn’t out, and the opening guy didn’t do his bit, so instead, this poor man is left with the task of explaining what we would normally experience. Other than his good self, the only element of the original show that makes it to stage is Claire Marshall’s epic death scene, which she undertakes for the majority of the show. The concept is not uninteresting and for a while I was completely engrossed. In a very understated English way, the beginning was hilarious. The way Arthur explained almost every minutia of the show was captivating and just as the energy was losing its way, Marshal entered and in the driest deadpan you’ve ever heard, announced the beginning of her death. Her violent throes provided an ideal counterpoint to the lulling monologue of Arthur, which was more than enough for an entertaining half hour of theatre.

Unfortunately, it continued for another hour after that (the programme’s promise of a 75 minute running time was either a poor estimate or a calculated lie) without change. No performer relationships emerged, there were no shifts in pace and only the smallest pay-offs for the effort the play demanded of its audience. In the play’s defence, the early morning flight to Melbourne had meant that I’d only gotten three hours sleep the night before, and instead of intellectually engaging with what the work was trying to do, I was instead thinking “eyes, stay open” and rueing my decision to sit in the front row. But I think that placing the blame on my interrupted sleeping patterns would be giving the show too much credit.

The play was attempting to investigate the idea of stage deaths and their inherent falseness. There are several deaths being explored, Marshall’s over the top theatrical death, the death of the show which is not being performed for unknown reasons, Arthur’s comical depiction of death, and then the death of the current show which peters out into nothingness. The work engages with these various deaths with what my friend described as “painful subtlety”, which I found simply translated to a boring show. I got so frustrated in the last half hour as I waited and waited for the play to do something, anything, to actually interest me. But instead I watched as a man performed a monologue he didn’t seem interested in, and a woman over-acted a death scene, which other than damaging Claire Marshall’s vocal chords didn’t achieve much. Now I know that this is probably the point of the work, that as we watched the play die on stage we ourselves died a sort of death, and what about the way they were deconstructing theatre as a form and aren’t all these things very interesting to think about? My answer is yes, these things are interesting to think about, but it’s also interesting to watch good theatre. My question is, what did Spectacular do in performance, that couldn’t have been done in a short essay? I would argue very little and that’s what I found frustrating.

Props to Arts House for their green ticket scheme, which meant that this disappointing experience was at least a cheap one.

- Simon

1 comment:

David said...

Got to admit I did expect a lot more. Perhaps this was what Mark was talking about with the dangers of hype. We'd built up something of a grand name for Forced Entertainment prior to the show.

Claire Marshall is great for the record. She kept waking me up. And considering it's set out in the beginning that she is meant to be overacting, it was a great counterpoint. The show could have been done SO much faster though. Who here is being forced, the actors or the audience?