Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Thom Scullion: 86 per cent

It’s not entirely unfair to ask what the hell Thom Scullion thinks he is doing. Last time out, at Arches Live!, he filled up a room with retro computer games and let the audience go wild. I ended up in a particularly vicious combat with a press agent, missed two serious performances and finished the evening being dragged away from the machine by my colleagues. This time, he only had one game – some bloody impossible Jurassic Park tie-in – and I still ended up swearing at innocent audience members, only this time in frustration.

Scullion is one of the Live Art Young Team: impeccable credentials, only he has chosen not to go for monologues or choreography based on post-modern dance but computer games. Chatting to him after I had died six times on screen, he comes across as affable: his lecture, which tried to explain that computers are not as bad as the tabloids paint them, was remarkably intelligent. Yet instead of writing a script about the positives of gaming, he just lets people have a shot on his prized collection of games.

This might make it difficult to review – I mean, how am I supposed to give a star rating to a dinosaur that I am operating? – but it makes more sense. He has stripped away those fripperies of performance – the stage, the actors, the design – and aimed instead for the direct transmission of emotions. Now, I might be able to empathise with Oedipus’ frustration when the messenger won’t give him a reasonable answer to his questions, but I sure as shit feel it when my little dinosaur gets eaten by the big one in exactly the same place for the fifth time.

He also saves himself a bundle on the post-show discussion. His corner of the Old Hairdressers is packed with people, shouting encouragement or laughing at my failure. In short, he doesn’t need to write an essay on how gaming makes a community, he just makes the community.

It’s a sharp idea, and it does all the hard work – once he has got it all plugged in, the installation takes care of itself. It doesn’t hurt that Scullion hovers around, charming and chatting, but the event is an object lesson in how to get the impact of a theatre piece without splashing out on an author, an audience, a stage and a script. Besides that, it is a little more fun than half an hour of incest, monologue and chorus. 

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