Monday 19 August 2013

EIF 2013 - On Behalf of Nature, or, A Display of Unmitigated Ego

The credits in the programme gave fair warning. They informed me that Meredith Monk was going to sing, had written and directed the show and assisted in the editing of the video. Were she a multi-talented genius all might have been well. Sadly, this is not the case.

The first crime this latest contribution to the 2013 Festival's so far dismal theatre programme commits is to once again assume that good theatre doesn't need any kind of text as a basis. Such shows have become increasingly dominant in the current Artistic Director's programmes, and nearly all of them have been failures. This was not an exception. Monk claims in her programme note that “On Behalf of Nature is a meditation on our intimate connection to nature, its inner structures, the fragility of its ecology and our interdependence.” Beyond some attempts at animal imitation (a genre in which Donald Swann and the Latvian Radio Choir are both infinitely superior) and some swinging rings which I suspect were intended to symbolise the planet in peril, I detected none of the above.

Monk's musical approach is of the Philip Glass school of composition. You have, after about ten minutes, heard everything she has to offer. Unfortunately, it then repeats itself for another hour. Her wordless approach to singing is not wholly devoid of interest, and there are one or two nice moments of instrumental sound, but it is not sufficient to carry a 75 minute show. The music is performed by Monk and 7 others who do so meandering around the stage and indulging in some laughably bad choreography. Given that there is no text it will come as no surprise that there is also no narrative and no characters. Towards the conclusion the stage empties and a series of video images are projected onto a screen – the rationale for their selection, and their positive contribution to the piece escaped me.

It appears from her programme bio that Monk has been doing this kind of thing since the 1960s. I wonder if it was any more sophisticated back then, or if everyone was just too doped up to notice. Clearly she has some fans, a group which presumably includes Jonathan Mills. Midway through the performance I attended though I could have sworn I heard a child whisper insistently “But it's so silly”. Out of the mouths of babes.

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