DramaLondonReviewSpoken WordVAULT Festival

It All – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Louise Burns

Writer and Performer: Cameron Cook

For those who have yet to encounter the peculiar world of writer and solo performer Cameron Cook, prepare for the unexpected. This is an uncomfortable, yet rejuvenating evening, with much laughter. A mad hatter’s tea party with Beckett, Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe.

The show has something of a cabaret feel to it. Patrick Bell’s chilling, musical score accompanies Cook’s storytelling. Already on stage as the audience enter, Bell creates a jarring presence as he sits, quietly watching. Cook enters and walks centre stage. Wearing the simple costume of black trousers, white vest with suspenders, and bare feet— here is the clown. Although, in place of the traditional red nose, his lips are painted black. Something is askew. The show begins with spoken word. A prologue. Do not ridicule, as what we are about to witness is out of his control. With that, the warning is in place and “The mask is on”!

Through physical manifestations and superb vocal dexterity, the audience is taken into a chaotic and disturbing mind. We are introduced to a frightened little boy, unsure of what his life will become. In a series of fragmented vignettes Cook captures the confusion, fear and a ferocious fury at an unjust world. We meet The Privileged. Scathing parodies of the bourgeoisie, asleep. They are ignorant and protected from the storm outside, unleashing their wrath when awoken. “You took my sleep”, snarls Cook. No one is spared: Obnoxious city boy traders, bullying school children, Richard Branson, preaching academics, inane talent shows.

Cook commands the stage. A visceral performer with muscular agility, with the twitch of the lip and sudden physical movement, he embodies multiple characters.  He brilliantly creates a storm using only a flick of his vest to mimic the wind, and his fingertips on temples become the rain. Bell’s compositions intertwine with the spoken word performance. Dressed in matching costume, Bell bows the guitar instead of his violin, creating an atonal sound. He and Cook look at each other, Bell strikes the triangle, winks and with perfect timing completes a verse of poetry with music.

Unrestrained, this performance could become excessive, but Cook is careful to include a tone of irreverence. He breaks character, into an actor strutting around the stage, waving his hands, and speaking of ‘truth’. The audience is released, if only for a moment. Cook clocks the absurdity of life with all its chaos of war, depravity and sadness. Some might be left feeling bemused. It is not a straightforward experience. And yet, theatre should unsettle. It All is an acutely observed portrait of a frightening world.

Reviewed on 07 March 2020

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