Questions and answers
26 March 2018
Ben Kulvichit asks how we respond to the first day of shows at NSDF
Three shows on my first night: Lights Over Tesco Carpark, Hatch and 1001010. I came away with enormous admiration for the first, but something about the other two bugged me.
Hatch is performed with huge charisma and conviction. It tells a story with a clear and fully formed voice, and a sense of urgency and importance. It has integrity. 1001010 is, above all, charming – maybe a little less compellingly written, but refreshingly direct, obviously coming from the heart, and meeting its audience with generosity.
But at the centre of both shows are statements. Hatch tells us that the experience of young women in the prison system is punishing and leaves them dangerously vulnerable to abuses of power. 1001010 powerfully rejects the stranglehold of normative gender binaries and asserts the importance of carving out a space for oneself. They’re both important messages, but end with full stops. I came out of both with nodding in agreement, but with nowhere left to go. I asked what I could have found in them beyond a political conviction I already shared.
What made Lights Over Tesco Carpark more rewarding for me was that its centre is a question. A question that initially seems trivial, but is really hugely profound: …might aliens be real? Poltergeist Theatre are trying to approach a black hole – an absence of knowledge that they can’t hope to fill. The question that forms the engine of the show, then, is how do we go about meeting and dealing with what we don’t, or can’t, know? It’s appropriate that the show is self-aware, that the cast are kind-of performing themselves in that blurry half-space between realness and pretence, and recount (not actually, it turns out) real-life events; it’s a literal investigation into a question, and stages – playfully, brilliantly – a detective story.
It’s a show filled with punchlines too; accepted realities turned on their heads. Some of these work and some don’t – the finishing "none of this was true" reveal, rather than problematising what we’d watched, felt to me as if it closed it down, washed away any ethical greyness, made things just theatre again. Maybe a more interesting basis from which to proceed would be to accept that everything was all true, or true and not true at once – what possibilities might that open up? I loved the show, but also found myself craving even more room for ambiguity.
That theatre can be a vessel for asking questions is hardly the hottest of takes, I know, but it’s one that I increasingly feel is so absolutely essential to how I think about performance. I want theatre to open up a space for me to fill, I need it to make a requirement of me that I complete the work. What is this event asking of me? How do I position myself in relation to the performers? How do I bear witness, and what has the act of bearing witness changed in me? The longer I can keep those questions open and alive in myself after the event, the bigger the possibility is for change.