Sunday 26 August 2018

EIF 2018 - Home at the King's Theatre, or, In the Shadow of Taylor Mac

Geoff Sobelle's new theatre piece is in a long standing International Festival tradition. Take a performer or company who have been successful on the Fringe (usually award winning) and give them a larger budget to make an EIF show. This approach has, in recent times produced some real duds - Anything that Gives off Light and Leaving Planet Earth come to mind. In advance of this show I wasn't very optimistic, having not been wowed by Sobelle's recent award winning Fringe show The Object Lesson. As it turns out this is a better show than that, but it still suffers from what are, for me, familiar flaws, and in one particular area it was overshadowed by comparison to my extraordinary experience at Taylor Mac's LIFT show back in June.

Sobelle's aim with this show is to explore the meaning of "home". After a preamble of one-man wall construction we have a sequence of very impressive illusions (consultant Steve Cuiffo) enabling people to appear and disappear in doorways and from a bed - it's beautiful to watch. This is followed by the construction of a two-story house (excellently designed by Steven Dufala), much of it before our eyes in which first the ensemble and then large numbers of the audience interact in a sequence of events likely to happen in houses - graduations, funerals, parties, parent-child and spousal arguments and domestic repairs. Finally at the end, the human presence fades away and the house is again something between derelict and construction site. Atmosphere is heightened by often vivid lighting effects - particularly of different times of day beyond the house - by Christopher Kuhl, and a less convincing soundtrack sometimes performed onstage by Elvis Perkins looking as if he's wandered out of a Wes Anderson film.

The best aspects of the show are the visuals and movement. There are quite a few arresting stage pictures, and the fluidity of movement of the seven person ensemble as they execute David Neumann's choreography is a treat to watch. But there is a problem - there's almost no text to this, all the people in this house remain exemplars, types. We never get to know them as this particular arguing couple, or grieving family members. For me the effect was to leave me largely emotionally disengaged. I think also the show perhaps overplays the comedic angle - a brief image of people returning wearied to the house after what feels like collective long days stands out because it's more melancholic tone is comparatively fleeting in the overall context.

The second problem is the audience participation. If you like being given silly things to do when you go to the theatre then you'll probably enjoy this. I don't particularly. But the show appears to aspire beyond that to make everybody part of a community. In a space the size of the King's it hasn't successfully worked out how to draw in the many audience members who aren't asked to leave their seats. And the trouble for me was that I had been at Taylor Mac's 24 Decade History (The First Act) back at the Barbican in June. The Barbican Theatre, with its lack of a central aisle, is arguably an even more intractable space for audience participation than the King's. But not only did Taylor Mac cajole pretty much the entire audience into getting involved (the image of ping pong balls flying around that large auditorium remains vivid in my mind) - he had by the end succeeded in creating a far more powerful sense of collective community than anything Sobelle can conjure here.

Overall, despite the energy, the often impressive visuals and technical skill, and some funny moments this is a show that at 1hr 50minutes outstayed its welcome. Overall an interesting watch, but not a must see.

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