The International Festival brochure proclaims this show to be “a side-splittingly funny 80 minutes”. On the basis of my experience I conclude that, presuming Fergus Linehan did see the show before booking it, he and I have wildly divergent senses of humour.
There is no question that the twelve strong ensemble of performers in this show are very talented people who can sing, move, dance and dive/fall off the stage onto a crash mat to a high standard. But a talented ensemble alone does not make a successful show and, once again this Festival, this is an ensemble let down by the show they are performing in.
The piece is listed under theatre in the EIF brochure. This is misleading. It would be more accurately characterised as musical theatre, or possibly dance. In theory it is a staging of a play by Dieter Roth the script of which consists of the word “murmel” repeated for 178 pages. What this actually amounts to is an exploration of the many different ways you can speak or sing this word, which is also, as far as I could judge, a satire of the variety of types of performance which might take place on a stage – from classical drama to ballet. In other words, it is yet another piece this Festival which is trying to send up straight theatre (and indeed straight ballet, musical theatre and opera). This sort of thing, as I seem to be saying with monotonous regularity, happens nearly every Festival and ran out of steam some time ago. This show does not do anything very fresh with it. There are also some intermittent attempts to comment on the way individuals might behave both in isolation and with each other - the problem being that we never learn enough about any of the people on stage to be terribly concerned about them as individuals or therefore about their behaviour. The show at one point also falls victim to another common error of modern theatre that someone wandering around with their trousers round their ankles is inherently funny (it isn't).
The choreography/movement, presumably the work of director Herbert Fritsch since no one else is credited, suffers (like the projections in the Magic Flute) from over repetition. It is quite funny the first time a cast member teeters on the edge of the stage before falling onto a crash mat at the front of the stalls. It becomes progressively less funny the more times the move is repeated. Not unlike Seven earlier in the Festival Fritsch hasn't enough inspiration to match the duration of the piece. Ingo Gunther's music is second rate minimalism crossed with generic pop and also outstays its welcome. The brightly coloured moving flats do allow for some clever entrances and exits, but their movement also is overused (Glass & Wilson in Einstein on the Beach did similar things with the movement of pieces of set to greater effect).
If this show were condensed to 45 minutes it might be quite good fun, at an hour and 20 minutes, like other offerings in this year's theatre programme it really outstays its welcome. There were bursts of laughter in the Upper Circle, and a small number of people clearly found it very funny, but nobody was laughing continuously for 80 minutes (and the laughter was never comparable to that in the most side-splittingly funny show that I can think of - the original run of the NT's One Man Two Governors which possessed visual and other gags of a quality rather beyond this show). As far as I was concerned this was no more than mildly amusing, and that but rarely, and has little of substance to say to make up for that. In sum, another attempt to dispense with the key attributes of traditional theatre which falls sadly flat. Unfortunately, on past form, this is unlikely to be the last such show programmed at the International Festival. A disappointing end to what has been an uneven theatre year.
Housekeeping Note: The Upper Circle at the Kings should be sold as restricted view for this show - or at least the first half a dozen rows. I moved seats but even then the crash mat (an integral part of the staging) was not properly visible. It may not have been possible to check this in advance of the first performance, but somebody should have checked during technical preparations and an explanation offered to those seated in that area.