Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Uninvited Feeling

Somewhere towards the end of Make Better Please, there is a moment of audience interaction that distresses me. I think we'd just seen one of the cast run around the room half-naked wearing a papier-mache cock while having tea spat on him... he was being possessed by half a dozen newsworthy figures including Jimmy Saville and that one that runs the country... the lights were flashing red and the drummer was having some...

It was the moment of calm after the mayhem. Another cast member invited the audience to tell us any stories that they had which might act as an anchor of hope against this storm of media-manipulated misery. A few people got up and said a few words.

And I had nothing. No single story I could consider that wasn't compromised by my belief that moments of hope or beauty are inevitably crushed by the march of events. Even the few words from the other audience members left me cold - with all due respect for their bravery and sincerity, it all felt inevitably irrelevant in the face of the bloody mayhem we'd been reading about in our break-out groups.

This bothered me for many reasons, not least that it suggests that I have succumbed to the stereotypical persona of the critic: cynical, pessimistic, unable to make a leap of faith and always waiting to be impressed. Sure, I'll do my proper critique later, and dissect the structural implications of Uninvited Guest's mash-up of tea-party, discussion group, mentalist live art rock'n'roll and secular rituals of purification. But it seems far more important to get a clearer picture of my mental state first...

I am wondering whether this wasn't part of the show's point: having bombarded the audience with bad news, this moment of reflection allowed me to understand how it impacted on my psyche. Despite a few reservations about the process - I don't like to be lulled into security before being provoked to respond in public - Uninvited Guests are using some contemporary techniques to get back to theatre's earliest definitions: a place for catharsis of difficult emotions.

Back to me, sitting as part of a circle, alone with my rather dark prognosis of humanity. I cannot tell you a single thing that gives me hope against the behaviour of our politicians, the sex-traffic ring exposed in Edinburgh, the scandal of the UKIP supporting foster-parents, against homophobia. Isn't there a fairy-tale where an angel asks a human to give a justification for allowing our species to live? And wouldn't we be stuffed if the angel asked me?

I'm hoping that Make Better Please wanted to point out the way our minds are manipulated towards negativity by the media. If we'd been listening to Arvo Part for half an hour, and reading spiritual texts from across different cultures, I am sure I would have come up with something.

Either way, I was in my favourite theatre venue, and in a very dark place.

I'm going to be even more pessimistic. Works like Make Better Please have a habit of confronting me in my belief that criticism has a purpose. As it stands, the lovely little review I intended to write has been rendered meaningless. The format, the clever tricks, the symbolism of tea, how we all got to wear masks: fascinating, but useless to the purpose of the work.

The company may have ended on a further ritual to dispatch the darkness but, frankly, that's not enough. The meaning of this work is not revealed by itself, but through discussion. Sending us off into the night was not enough. It needed some kind of critical support, a mutual support session, a conversation.

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