The speed of sound
30 March 2018
Nathan Dunn loves Speed Death of the Radiant Child, but he doesn't like it
For me, Speed Death of the Radiant Child wasn't the gold standard – and that's fine. The focus on criticism at this festival has offered up the important reminder that the easiest thing to do in this industry is to talk, and when the hardest thing to do is to create, sometimes talking can do more harm than good. But I will say this: I loved it and didn't like it. Let me explain.
The big picture, despite its frustrating elusiveness, was layered with haggardly beautiful and broad strokes. It's aesthetic strength almost faultless, the technical qualities a complete tour de force. The script is a dangerous beast that is for the most part tamed well. Scenes carry the appropriate emotional weight and know when it needs to be lifted or dropped. The ideas are big and their realisations are bigger. The characters on-stage are (almost) 100% believable, and to maintain that balance at such an intensity whilst also carrying the conceptual subtext is a feat in itself. Ben Kulvichit's conceptual prowess is difficult to question.
But questions remain. Not for him, however.
The audience reaction to Speed Death has fascinated me. I am torn. I find myself admiring the patience and trust that an audience will give to a piece that is shamelessly bold and brave. I adore the encouragingly eager-eyed approach and willingness to be taken on a journey. Yet, I am equally disappointed in the unchallenging nature of an audience who didn't have a clear grasp of what was happening before them and therefore, perhaps intimidated by this, took shelter under its guise of intellectualness. Most thought it was clever - but why? Some have offered explanations with a concise justification, but I feel there are still holes in the 'common perspective'. Beyond the intriguing script and beautiful imagery, the general consensus appears to be that strobe lighting, ambient sound and the use of the naked human body have suddenly become the new language of clever thought in theatre.
Perhaps I am naive in my assumption that not enough of us challenged a piece begging to be challenged. Perhaps I have failed to see said challenges, and simply view the world the way I want to view it. Or perhaps I haven't, and perhaps this is exactly what we have done as viewers. This piece serves as a fine example of how we can lead ourselves blindly into a blissfully ignorant appreciation of something that looks so pretty and sounds so nice, but at the core might be just as problematic as we fear it is.
We don't want to admit we're wrong as an audience. If we know a piece is trying to do something and we don't connect to that, we rarely tell ourselves we're the problem. We would much rather insist a piece we didn't connect to was bad or that we enjoyed a piece we didn't understand because it hurts much more to look within and ask ourselves the question 'why?'. We are scared of the answer, because often it tells you more about yourself than you'd care to realise.
I was forced to ask myself these questions before I could dare to ask anyone else, but it was the piece that made me do that. I sat there and felt nothing during the 110 minutes that unfolded on stage but now, lying in my bed over 24 hours later, my mind is thrillingly attached to it. I reacted similarly when last year I reviewed Kulvichit's previous NSDF entry Celebration which received heaps of praise and left me feeling lost and disconnected from the common viewpoint. Seeing him and the Warwick University Drama Society bring this work and challenge me like this has made me understand why I felt that way. It allowed me find a level to understand the work on, and opened up a gateway in my mind that I won't be able to close and nor do I wish to.
And that's why I loved a piece I didn't like.
Photo credit: Giulia Delprato