BE FESTIVAL: Wednesday – Birmingham REP

Performances reviewed:

  • The Sensemaker (Woman’s Move, Switzerland)
  • Portraits And Short Stories (Panama Pictures, Netherlands)
  • Everything Is OK (Marco D’Agostin, Italy)
  • My Country Is What The Sea Doesn’t Want (Casa Da Esquina, Portugal)

Reviewer: John Kennedy

23 June 2016: a febrile atmosphere possesses The REP: it was Referendum Day and optimistic display boards celebrated pan-European messages of hope and inclusion. The following evening was dominated by a sense of desperate and acute embarrassment soured further with utter disbelief –‘The soul of Europe in the heart of the Birmingham’had been exorcised, cauterised. Of course, a year on, things are so much clearer.

Whatever the effusive programme synopsis notes might claim, it’s when the lights go down that the truth’s made known. Subject to subjective contact of course. All Festival performances at BE FESTIVAL run at approximately 30 minutes. Tonight’s first two are so poles apart in originality and imagination that they stamp their mark as exemplar exclusives for BE FESTIVAL – and beyond.

The Sensemaker (Woman’s Move, Switzerland) opens with an attractive young woman, soberly but expensively attired. Is she waiting for an interview?

A telephone – an old school proper one that can be satisfyingly slammed down, starts ringing with increasing, disembodied menace. She becomes drawn into a dysfunctional and increasingly psychotic call-centre matrix of recorded replies and‘please hold’muzak interlude menu options. Her obvious option is to walk away – but curiosity is a catalyst few can resist.

The conceit of this shared, ubiquitous experience is taken to extreme abstraction. She becomes possessed by a manic mime synchronised sequence of cable/radio-channel skipping hysteria. Random multi-lingual snatches includeTrainspottingRent-boy’s rant about the Scots’ alleged, supine surrender to the bastard English. The multi-lingual audience appreciates many more.

Superficially, a caustic satire of the vacuous faux sincerity of out-sourced call centre ennui, there develops a more sinister theme of data-trawling. The electronica banal emasculation ofOde To Joybecomes an odour of despair. An homage to Kubrick’sClockwork Orangedoes not escape notice, likewise the irony of it being the official EU anthem. Ingenious, subversive and scurrilous, this Swiss role reversal surreality suggests Harry Lime will need to update/delete his put-down cuckoo-clock trope. Seems we can never hang-up on the inner-space dystopian nightmare hang-ups of J.G. Ballard/Philip K. Dick. ⭐⭐⭐½

Portraits & Short Stories, Netherlands (Panama Pictures) finds a man of maturing years sitting on a series of white stage blocks and access ramps. He finds company in a cohort of five younger men. A rigid metal pole reaches up. A sturdy rope hangs from the lighting rig.

From this point on the observer can convince themselves to subscribe to whichever extended visual metaphor this troupe of acrobatically eloquent, dimension-defying artists entices them to believe in. Apophenia describes associating patterns to random shapes or data. But there’s little that is random here. Some buy into a sailing-ship tableau.

The pole becomes a mast, the rope the rigging upon a storm-tossed ocean – the hammock motif is a give-away – possibly. Their balletic physicality and gymnastic dexterity scoffs at gravity. Themes of friendship, antagonism, shifting alliances and potential violence shimmer within this ambiguous matrix of movement in ever-febrile flux. The rope becomes a potent cypher for both benign and malign intentions.

A lifeline or a noose? Perhaps a coiling snake? Conciliation eventually leads to resurrection and closure. A resonant performance of celebratory, spatial harmony and economic precision. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Marco D’Agostin’sEverything Is OK (Italy) is trailed as a‘one-man show of cultural and sensory overload.’A splenetic burst of poly-lingual, urban patois babble-Rap inexplicably shifts to a solo exposition of abstract physical expressionism. His pliant dexterity is beyond question. His quest for bodily metamorphosis with echoes of Dali’sNarcissusless so. ⭐⭐

Casa Da Esquina’s My Country Is What The Sea Doesn’t Want (Portugal) part anecdotal, part socio-economic critique, relates his personal, and compatriots’, chosen diaspora. For him, it was to London and Harrods. Through a montage of very lo-fi, shaky video-camera to screen projections, he presents recorded interviews and on-stage engagement with young people from the EU working in the UK. The intention is admirable more for its sincerity than its technical competence and theatrical provenance. Much more work is needed to progress this worthy, if not self-indulgent concept, any further than an otherwise ‘found’ audience would tolerate. ⭐⭐½

Reviewed on 5 July 2017 | Image (of Portraits and Short Stories): Contributed

Taking place between July 4 – 8, BE FESTIVAL is a cross-pollinating and boundary-smashing explosion of theatre, dance, circus, comedy, music, visual and performing arts giving audiences the opportunity to explore and enjoy the backstage areas of The REP where the Construction Workshop acts as a Hub to the festival.

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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