On rocky ground

17 April 2019

A case of concept over substance, according to Marina Johnson 

For a show that opens so promisingly – for me How to Save a Rock gets derailed as swiftly as the characters in the show, leaving its audience behind in the lurch.

I can understand how the show could be chosen for the festival on concept alone. The idea of a carbon-neutral show – that is pure genius. Sadly, How to Save a Rock, didn’t make me care, it made me frustrated.

The show begins with an intriguing sensory experience as you enter the space – the dim lighting, asking us to rely on our other senses. The crinkling and clinking of rubbish, mixes with chatter of the crowd over which floats gentle music. It was like entering a glittering cave of wonders, made of trash. It was gloriously homemade and charming. This endearing charm continues with an opening fantastical storytelling of the big bang, with an ingenious use of hand-held lights to show gases and the rocks coming together to make planets. It is hard to achieve poetical science made visually engaging. We flew on past the present on into a near future, where the world is melting and the animals are dying.

Then, abruptly, we change gears as the piece switches up its style and zooms in on its main story, and all that wonderful storytelling vanishes. The script feels a bit like it was made in the ‘lol so random’ era of internet culture. We focus in on Coco – an eco-activist –  and her friends, as they receive a written letter in a bottle from the last polar bear. Coco and the rest of her unconvincing friends decide to go to Iceland to save him. They meet many much more amusing people along the way – such as the aggressively-caffeinated-latte-drinking social-media-warrior – who they promptly leave behind.

Overall the performances by the ensemble feel both too structured for the show to be completely improvisation and very scatty for a rehearsed piece. This unsteadiness exacerbated the poorly written characters and made them a real struggle to get behind.

The plot was interspersed with monologues. I appreciate the attempt to intersperse the story with something more personal and I did respect the honesty and vulnerability of the performers as they delivered them, but I really struggled with the writing, they felt too long.

I found the audience interaction quite questionable. These begin with a gentle guided instructions that allow the audience to maintain their agency, but morph into somthing much darker. We are invited to close our eyes if we wish, and to raise and lower our hands. Then, in a provocative twist of exposure that felt very out of place in this up until now, gentle show, the audience is instructed to open their eyes and see the previously anonymous responses to questions. This is less of an issue when we are simply talking about people's use of tote bags. However, when asking personal questions about having children, the sense of subversive exposure is quite unnerving. Also, the phrasing of the audience question was so circular and incoherent, that it didn’t even allow people who are not be planning on having children anyway to answer.

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Photo credit: Brett Chapman