Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Olga Plocienniczak responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

Not my type of shit

Due to the role catharsis plays as a “medical metaphor”, it is sometimes claimed that rather than “purification” or “cleansing” it is more appropriate to define it as purgation. Purgative is in other words strongly laxative in effect… Perhaps that’s what the heaps of faeces in No 1, The Plaza referred to.  A bit of a tedious link, I know. But that’s precisely the impression I had throughout the show, one of a very strenuous and tedious link.

In all honesty, I don’t think I should be writing about this performance. As difficult (or indeed impossible) to achieve a concept it might be, I deeply value objectivity. And as far as No 1 is concerned, unfortunately I’m quite biased. It just happened to push all the wrong buttons for me.

The first thing that struck me was that I was already familiar with the characters, I recognized the duo as soon as they appeared on stage: the silly, blabber-mouthed, fitting all stereotypes of a blonde, Lucy, and cynical, rarely given a chance to speak, with disillusionment sizzling hot beneath a seemingly calm surface, Jen. The hair attachments they were wearing served as the final hint. Last year at the Sampled festival of works-in-progress, organised by the Junction, I saw those two in a durational performance called Hairpiece. For something that must have seemed an eternity, they wondered around the stage, sipping wine and playing a word game on any phrase they could squeeze “hair” in, all whilst holding some wigs up in the air, and generally being in the same type of relation I could see right now – the not overly clever, constant chatter-box that is Lucy, and her by default quiet, slightly awkward counterpart, Jen, full of spite yet “stuck” with all the lucynesh of this world. Personally, I found half an hour of this character study quite sufficient. I admired the physical strength and endurance of these women; however, it seemed like an awful lot of effort for no particular reason, leaving me longing for some sort of meaningful message, and straining to see one, in vain.
I love theatre for its ability to create suspense by means of symbolic boundaries, a few simple props. This applies to creating and changing characters too. To see this very couple again, in the same roles, with the same mannerisms, way of interacting with each other and the audience, was disappointing.

In preparation for the show, I read Getinthebackofthevan’s “vanifesto”, where, among others, a desire to “transport” the audience is expressed. What a fantastic commitment. Whether it’s “comforting the disturbed” or “disturbing the comfortable”, the ability of a performance to transcendent, transport, introduce the spectator to a whole new viewpoint is truly extraordinary. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always about providing a form of escapism. At times, I have been shaken to my very core, taken completely out of my comfort zone, shown things I would rather not existed. I have to admit No 1, The Plaza didn’t take me very far. Or deep. Perhaps because it is not something achieved simply by showing people around the intestines of the soul; it is the choice of the soul that makes the journey. Being invited inside No 1 was like… watching a reality show. It was like witnessing an embarrassing drunken scene sober. The same cringing feeling of not being able to comprehend how anyone could find it entertaining or worthwhile. The vanifesto also states a core belief in performance as a dialogue. “Without you guys this would be nothing”, says Lucy. But our sheer presence doesn’t necessarily equate to anything either. A performer holds a certain responsibility to the audience, just like a converser holds responsibility to their listener and vice versa. Only that constitutes a true dialogue.

Of course, undoubtedly, there is value in demonstrating the shallowness of contemporary culture or what has become of human interactions. Even more so, in pointing that we are all immersed in it, owing to this “shittiness”. I could not help but think of Hannah Walker’s and Chris Thorpe’s Oh fuck moment, and how in an “office environment”, with the use of spoken word only they managed to evoke such strong emotions that some members of the audience had to leave at certain parts of the show. What a different way they chose to be thought provoking, open eyes to the consequences of trying to hide your “shit” or pretending it’s not there. But it’s one thing to be made aware, to acknowledge, to owe to; unlike Lucy I definitely don’t need my nose being rubbed into it.

Anything positive? I thought the reflection on relationships as something often continued for all the wrong reasons was quite to the point – when five years down the line people literally can’t stand each other but stick with it just because by then, they themselves and whatever they consider their property (both literally and metaphorically) is covered in each other’s shit. And another good point on property and privacy: Jen’s outraged cry commanding to leave – even though by invitation, we’ve come too far, seen too much, and once that is the case, you’re never welcome to stay. Get out and mind your own shit.
On this occasion, I was quite glad to take the advice.

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