reviews an JAMES MACNAMARA play. experimental
Corpus Playroom, 8-12th May, 9.30pm, £5-6
Written and directed by Robbie Aird
Two weeks ago I watched someone eat a substantial amount of instant coffee straight from the jar. And then I helped J.H. Prynne blow up a giant inflatable dinosaur. And then I was dragged on stage, made to down a glass of wine, and danced a little bit. And I ran around proclaiming the apocalypse. And then starred in an advert for Lindt chocolate.
And this week I got to see a graphic depiction of auto-erotic asphyxiation. And a penectomy performed with teeth. Drink Me involves both of these things. But the joy I received was not the same as that given to me by the activities of yesterweek. It was not quite there. The daring, successful unpredictably of ‘experimental theatre’ relies on a natural not-giving-a-shit, a distancing from the quotidian and the little explosions and implosions of meaning and experience that happen as a result. It has to be natural, or appear to be. If it seems deliberately ‘experimental’ (like, omg), then it will fail. I think Robert Aird cares too much about what people will think of his work, too much about how his work relates to the work of others.
There are many interesting elements in this play. I was left rather confused, and I like that. I wasn’t expecting the amount of humour that I was given: there are many laugh-out-loud moments in Drink Me, coming into existence most effectively through some intelligent directing. I liked it when they hissed. That was cool. There are interesting treatments of genre. Comedy and horror are played against each other effectively and quite innovatively; movements and mannerisms that might have been disquieting were made amusing, and this worked well.
Having said that, there were many problems. The dialogue is thick with cliché, and this always makes me a little annoyed. It was perhaps more difficult to process here; it jarred against the action in a potentially very interesting way – but I got the impression that this wasn’t intentional. There is a whiff of GSCE drama over-eagerness to cram devices, stuff, over the top of the script. Placards saying ‘BOO’ and ‘YAY’ (soooo raaandommm) are charming, but they are an example of the erosion of ‘experimental theatre’ into genre: they have been done because they work, and now only a kind of self-reflexive irony can atone for their use. They are a too obvious marker that a play is ‘experimental’.
It is a bit too easy to imagine Aird watching Saw and Mulholland Drive one night and a big thought bubble filled with ‘SO EXPERIMENTAL’ gradually appearing above his head. But I don’t think he is a fake. There is a lot of potential – as a writer and a director. It must also be said that there is some impressive acting in Drink Me, and some excellent sound and lighting, brought together by some interesting directorial decisions. Those are two supportive, ‘carry on my lad’, stars up there.
This play occasionally holds up a comically massive arrow to its status as ‘experimental’. This is its failing. But I think Robert Aird and company will go on to make good things – he is only an examless first yeah, bless him. So, continue, good sir. Into the darkness we go.