Saturday, July 11, 2015

'The Diver' at the Rag Factory, 10th July 2015

What the fuck is this shite? Gigantic alarm bells were blaring out from minute one, as director Rocky Rodriguez took to the stage to encourage us to drop the masks of adulthood and put on the masks of childhood. Hearing this self help guru rubbish made my stomach churn, correctly figuring it as an terrible omen of what was to come. I'd had my doubts about coming here at all. I hated Craft Theatre's Dante's Inferno with every fibre of my being, but had been assured that their latest production was a step away from their usual fare. 

And after all, everyone deserves a second chance right? Right?  

Well, chalk this up as a painful lesson in trusting my instincts. 

The Diver is a solo show by Helen Foster, directed by Craft Theatre impresario Rocky Rodriguez Jr. It's the story of adventurer Kate Plank, who's attempting to walk across the ocean floor from Land's End to New York City. This is, of course, an extended metaphor about the travails of solo performance. Helen as Kate must draw up the confidence to hurl herself into the unknown, trust in the advice of others, draw on reserves of inner strength and deal with the high expectations of those supporting her.

God I wish she hadn't. The Diver is one of the most embarrassing things I've seen on a stage in years. The deep sea adventuring lark quickly proves to be the vehicle for a parable about self-worth and a personal artistic journey, a painful public confession of the performer's deep rooted fears of inadequacy and doubt in her expressive abilities. Problem is, judging by The Diver, those fears are entirely justified.

What you're left with is a woman clowning about on stage with cheap props, a desperate rictus grin and a largely disinterested audience. I'm guessing that the intended effect was to create adorable ramshackleness, giving the show a no frills honesty. Foster spends much of the show apologising for the quality of what we're seeing, making light of the fact that she has no production budget and assuring us that though she may look like she's awkwardly floundering, it's actually all part of the show.

But there's a razor thin line between the cutely ramshackle and the just plain crap, and The Diver falls squarely in the latter. You can poke fun at yourself all you like for your production shortcomings, but that's not a get out of jail free card. Then again, it's not as if a massive budget would be a panacea. You'd still have to sit through the excruciatingly annoying sequences in which Foster talks to her animal sidekicks. They speak in grating comedy foreign accents ("WHAT EES THEES MEESES PLANK?!?") and never shut up. As the show creaked past the hour mark I felt my very soul beginning to curdle - occupying myself by trying to figure who I should hate most.

For all that she was pissing me off at that precise moment, I can't hate Helen Foster. Rather I feel a deep pity for her having to trudge through this bilge night after awful night, but I can't hate her. Therefore, blame must lie in those who've enabled her.

After all, what kind of sick bastard would let a performer go on stage with this act? Surely someone, somewhere should have sat Foster down and explained: 'sure you might have doubts about your talent, but the stage is not the place to work them out - at least not like this'. This feeds into what I've now concluded about Craft Theatre: their raison d'ĂȘtre is the inflation of their performer's egos.

Therapy through performance is a perfectly valid way of working through your woes, but for god's sake don't do it front of a crowd that's paid £12 a pop to get in. If you are going to make people pay to see your personal catharsis it'd better be bloody amazing. The Diver is not amazing. And it's not just regularly bad either. It's really, really fucking terrible. 

Charging people to see this is insulting.

The Diver is at the Rag Factory until 2nd August. Don't go and see it.

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