Thoughts: Get Stuff Break Free

Written for Exeunt

Wow there’s a lot going on this year. THE DIAMOND JUBILEE! THE OLYMPICS! THE SHARD! “It’s good the Shard opens before the Olympics begins. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough hubris in London this summer,” tweeted Andy Field and boy is he right.

According to a dictionary definition of hubris it means ‘overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.’ That seems to fit the bill 2012 is an unusually preening twelve months isn’t it. Celebrate! CELEBRATE!

If you detect a note of sarcasm in my tone you’d be right. Who are we kidding? We liberals feel rather grumpy about all this money-sucking, altar-to-capitalism building, royals-on-a-boat style celebration.

The idea of hollow celebration is key to Made In China’s new show (although it is powered by something much more hopeful than that). Get Stuff, Break Free highlights society’s penchant for ‘bread and circuses’ – keep us diverted and distracted and we’ll play nicely. The piece involves party poppers, cucumber sandwiches, jugs of Pimms, balloons, sparklers, a dance and fireworks.

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But what is it actually about? I have spoken to them about this; I should know this.

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Tim: “We’re being cagey about this because it’s a bit like if you say that [earlier show] Stationery Excess is about superman…”

 Jess: “It ruins the show.”

Honour: “Absolutely. Yes. But so….how do I write about it?”

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Made In China are Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki. They are passionate, involved, politically aware artists; ‘Look at this world you are so willingly a part of’ they challenge ‘Just notice it in all it’s problematic and grotesque glory.’

Get Stuff Break Free has been called a helpless acknowledgement of societal appeasement. But I think it’s too engaged for that. It’s a state of the nation piece.

It takes the form of a Q&A with a band who’ve seen it all. Maybe they are London; maybe they are society; maybe they are revolution; maybe they are a failed revolution; maybe they are human; maybe they are us.

Get Stuff Break Free is not a resigned shoulder-shrug to the schlock filled opium of the masses; its a clarion call to open your eyes and break out. It talks about large scale events from the capital’s past and present; riots, fires, weddings, funerals.

It’s Jess and Christopher Brett Bailey again (We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie)) but this time it’s also Nigel Barrett and Sarah Calver. Four figures looking like a folk rock group standing on a roof top of the National Theatre. I’m told people can see them when crossing Waterloo Bridge.

They look secure in clumpy ox-blood Doc Martens but also vulnerable, precariously perched on a platform so exposed the wind could lift them up at any moment. Safe and unsafe, I think it’s a metaphor for life – but is it?

It’s definitely both cocky and fragile; they’re like revolutionaries who’ve lost their way but still have flames in their eyes. “The world is explosive and full of greed. It won’t encourage questioning and it won’t give you space to be different.” It says. “But fight for that space because it CAN BE DIFFERENT.” It also says.

My use of capital letters here is not ironic. Made In China never are. Though they satirise the greed of the world, they are earnest in their call for the possibilities of change.

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So, sorry, what is it about again?

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I can’t stop thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps. ‘The first step is, admitting you’ve got a problem.’ That’s what Get Stuff Break Free is about.

Once we all do that, just think of what else we can do.

Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari: One Man Show

Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari, One Man Show
Written for Total Theatre

There is one moment of One Man Show when Nigel Barrett mouths off about the horrific attraction of the self-obsessed actor. His face is covered in a bandage with only his wide eyes showing, whilst a projected and grotesque set of lips and teeth move with disturbing urgency and a rumbling voice proclaims how charmingly terrible he is.

It strikes a chord with this performer-heavy audience but it’s also a sharply funny theatrical moment that anyone can relish. When on form this is what Barrett and his Shunt and Edinburgh collaborator Louise Mari do best, creating work that pleases theatre types and the general public alike. But it’s a fine line to tread. If only all of One Man Show could be as entertaining and daring as this satirical monologue.

A deconstruction of the idea of performance itself, and in particular the monologue-led form of its title, this is a surprisingly safe exploration for the wild twosome of Barrett and Mari. Words flash up and Barrett obligingly does the corresponding Garrick-like party piece facial expression. ‘Anger.’ Grrrr. ‘Fear.’ Whimper. ‘Happiness.’ Grin. He gets naked on stage, literally striping away the layers of performance, revelling in its exposing nature.

Fast-paced projections of dirty iconic men flash up behind him and we are given a stunning sunset and even some treats for the interval. Barrett handles his tricky audience with the blasé skill of a pro and gives us lots of rope to hang ourselves with as we rustle sweets and cough, albeit on cue.

But for all its bangs and whistles where is the new ground being covered here? It’s all a bit neat and pat and the questions it asks feel familiar. For a genuinely piercing exploration on the form and function of performance, the role of a performer and their audience, there are more dangerous and ultimately interesting places to go looking this Fringe.

One Man Show plays at C, Edinburgh 03/8/2011 - 29/8/2011 as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe