Reviewer: Lewis Wheeler
In the world of the TV gameshow, it is normally only the contestant whose luck is out: the audience is entertained whether the participants are winning or losing. Unfortunately, Company Chameleon decided to turn this truism on its head.
The production had a lot to commend it: both Anthony Missen’s and Kevin Edward Turner’s performances were fully committed and energetic, with characterisation that was well-sustained throughout. Turner’s character was the epitome of smarmy, cocksure, audience-manipulating presenter workhorse (think Vernon Kay meets Keith Lemon), and he rarely fell below 95% Dale Winton intensity while in ‘on air’ mode. His highly-detailed and well-nuanced performance was engaging and was the pulse of the show. Missen’s contestant was performed with conviction but lacked the complexity and depth of the presenter’s character, and unfortunately something about his focus just didn’t seem to connect with the audience.
The dance highlights were the duets where any type of physical contact was involved, no matter how lightly. When working in this form, Missen and Turner were more adventurous with how they pushed their largely pedestrian movement vocabulary. Orientation, rhythm and gravity were played with, and the dancers came ‘off-centre’ frequently, which was more visually exciting than the majority of the unpartnered movement.
Unfortunately, thematically, Gameshow was not cohesive. It had too much going on and it ignored the areas which could have been very interesting while over-developing (and over-indulging) its duller aspects. It was also too long, far too long. Gameshow was billed as an interrogation of our mass-media culture and also a parody of the extreme degree to which ‘celebrity’ culture has pushed aspirational living. At the same time, Company Chameleon state that they believe that dance theatre is a vital method for social change.
Although many links between these three aims can be found, in this production they sat together uncomfortably. What started promisingly as a witty absurdist questioning of the status quo morphed into a melodrama where the shallow existence of the presenter character was revealed, but with an excess of mournful sympathy. Did Company Chameleon want this Machiavellian character to have his cake and eat it? The contestant, affable Dave, eventually became empowered enough to sabotage the Gameshow and become independent of his puppet master. Nevertheless, I found it strange that he had got to this position seemingly as a result of his experiences on the show, rather than in spite of them.
Plaudits to Company Chameleon for not going down the obvious high-handed preachy route but it did leave me wondering, what end-point had they reached with this subject? Play along because the get-rich-quick self-humiliating “reality” TV show culture will eventually make you happy? Or perhaps the clue was in Dave’s final challenge, getting people to say they loved him even though “you don’t have to mean it though”. Perhaps Dave eventually just believed his own hype.
More confusing, however, were the adverts and the strange political references dropped on to the piece like F-bombs in front of your grandmother. Although the pay-per-view TV advert of a boxing match where Osama Bin Laden broke George Bush’s neck, or the extremely crass suicide joke, or even the reference to flying Libyan Airways and the Lockerbie bombing were possibly conceptually interesting, in that real life was desperately trying to be heard among the cacophony of ‘reality’ TV and yet was having absolutely zero impact, it was just very disjointed and bizarre.
Despite cramming in all of the above, the piece didn’t seem to have anything further to offer in terms of the development of its themes during the final 30 of its 70 long minutes. It lost its way when it became more of a drama about two well-acted, but in the end rather dull characters, and the promise of its witty cultural interrogation fizzled out.