Tuesday, January 13, 2015

'The One Festival: Programme D' at The Space, 10th January 2015

Tackling The One Festival has proved to be deeply enjoyable. Though The Space theatre is way down in the depths of the Isle of Dogs, it's friendly, open and helpful. I'm even enjoying the cycle ride down, zipping out of the City, through Whitechapel, Limehouse and then winding my way through the glass and chrome monoliths of Canary Wharf.  This is Programme D (for 'dazzling' apparently), the third of a series of four. Programmes A and C are reviewed here) So what's on the menu today?

The main course is the gargantuan Freud: The Musical. Natasha Sutton-Williams writes, composes and performs a hilarious dissection of Sigmund Freud's psyche as he stumbles in a cocaine-fuelled daze towards his famous theories of psychoanalysis. Swaddled in loose tweed he stomps around like a man possessed, waggling a cigar at the audience as he lectures about his brilliance, how no-one can understand him and why everyone else is a dunce in comparison to his mighty mind.

Natasha Sutton-Williams
Sutton-Williams' Freud is pitched ridiculously far into caricature: a complete departure from the typical portrayal of a buttoned down, overly serious and precise intellectual. Here he's a whirling rockstar dervish, snorting gigantic lines of cocaine off a grand piano and ranting like an angry Bond villain. 

Along the way Sutton-Williams switches roles to play a few of Freud's famous case studies, most notably the notorious 'Rat Man'. A soldier, this patient become tangled up in a fear of rats, stemming from a story he was told about a torture involving a bucket of hungry rats eating their way through someone's arse. The patient fantasised about this happening to his beloved fiancĂ©e and his (dead) father; inclinations that Freud found fascinating. In Sutton-Williams' hands this becomes a jagged, yelped song of rodent puppetry that left me with a grin formed from equal parts laughter and admiration at her audacity.

Impressive songs like this, coupled with ace digressions from Freud's female split personality 'Oedipussy' and the fearless way the piece strides into questionable territory, mark this as a performance to remember. It's ambitious, bold and a bit mad - I really enjoyed it.

After the interval we launch into the three shorter pieces. First up was Zero.  Written by Serena Heywood and performed by Sarah Cowan, this tackles agoraphobia, suicide and manslaughter - while also being pretty lighthearted and funny. At the centre is Gillian, psychologically imprisoned in her "crappy bedsit". After an unfortunate mishap while trying to be helpful as a fire marshal she now prefers to be indoors where she can't hurt anyone - retreating into fantasy as her room becomes a spaceship or a broken PC becomes a ticking time bomb.

Sarah Cowan
Cowan, with her flamingo physicality and slightly quavering voice, does a neat job of delineating a character that remembers being strong, healthy and happy, but is now dented and vulnerable. There's a palpable core of dignity and decency within; helping people over the internet almost as reflex. It's fortunate that the character is so clearly sketched out, because of the works I've seen this was a bit more difficult to follow narratively than the rest - trusting more on the audience inferring things rather than directly explaining them. Normally I enjoy a bit of ambiguity but here it somewhat saps the power of the closing moments.

Next is Adam, written by Richard Fitchett and performed by Greg Snowden. Told to us as a carefully memorised anecdote, we hear the fascinating story of how an Englishman ended up working for a former SS officer on a Canadian tobacco farm in the early 1970s. This is drama with a hint of history lesson, explaining just how an unrepentant, rapist, murderer Nazi can lead a peaceful life and nobody lays a finger on him.

Greg Snowden
The character of the narrator is pretty everymannish, apparently constructed with the intent of the audience wondering what they'd do if they were placed in his shoes. This is intentionally bland though, acting as a counterweight to the human black hole of Adam Muller. As he channels the Nazi, Snowden's shoulders become slightly hunched, his face gnomishly screwed up as if his essence is clenched like a fist. Much of Adam is given to deciphering the psychology of Muller, who sold his soul long ago. For this to work we need to see this for ourselves and Snowden's Muller more than provides; ending up a truly terrifying character to be in close proximity with. It's meeting characters like these that makes the close quarters monologue bristle with power.

Last is Monologue 150, written by Matt Fox and performed by Emma Francis. A pale woman with bags under her eyes morosely sits down and explains that she's really disappointed her mother this time.  We soon find out why. What follows is a rather lurid rape-revenge story that appears to aim for simple shock. I didn't particularly care for this, especially given that I'd just sat through one monologue that'd covered suicide and guilt, and another which featured a graphically described gang-rape.  

Emma Francis
So I wasn't in the mood for a piece that echoed trash exploitation cinema like I Spit On Your Grave or Ms. 45.  There's nothing really wrong with the way Francis plays the material, but you can't escape the ickiness of the way it sensationalises sexual violence to entertain. Not my thing.

But anyway.

Next up, Programme B!

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