Devisers and performers: ANTS Theatre
Scientific experimentation requires reproducibility, the idea that if an experiment is performed in exactly the same way, with exactly the same parameters, the outcome will always be the same.
But when the science drops down to the quantum level, it becomes harder not only to enforce a consistent level of input but also a consistent outcome. That is played out at a macro level with comic absurdity by ANTS Theatre’s hilarious exercise in the futility of repetition.
Experimentation is here played out not at the quantum level, but at the crumpet level. Every time a pair of crumpets is delivered down a metal chute, they are painstakingly toasted for a precisely imprecise amount of time (as long as it takes for a cast member to sing three-and-a-bit lines of Je Ne Regrette Rien). After being carefully buttered, a thrower selects one of the crumpets and it is thrown against the wall. A successful experiment, one which will prove the concept of quantum tunnelling, would see the crumpet fly through the wall.
Even in the first iteration of the routine, there is comedy present in the absurdity of the troupe’s behaviour. But it is when things start to go awry that the mayhem starts. From receiving butter pats instead of crumpets (how exactly does one butter a slab of butter, let alone toast it?) to dealing with an absence of any crumpets at all, the team’s stubborn insistence on conforming as closely as possible to their prescribed routine lies at the heart of their comedy.
The escalation of the absurdities at the heart of Qrumpet put one in mind of some of the greatest physical comedy routines, from Lucille Ball on a chocolate production line or Charlie Drake in his guise as a hapless handyman in The Worker. There may be commentary, too, on the futility of sticking to one’s guns in the face of drastically changing circumstances: but when scientists are reduced to buttering the trainers of an audience member because they have run out of crumpets, deeper metaphor proves elusive.
The key to such an escalation of absurdity being successful is in the conclusion. Here, too, ANTS Theatre succeeds, although it would be churlish to point out how and why. Besides, given the nature of such experimentation, one cannot be certain that the ending witnessed will truly be repeatable.
What is certain, though, is that Qrumpet is an absurd farce that is unlike anything one is likely to see on stage anywhere else. And for that, one is simultaneously relieved and disappointed.
Reviewed on 22 April 2022