Thursday, December 10, 2015

'The Godling' at the Etcetera Theatre, 9th December 2015

The Godling is about an insane couple who keep a caged pregnant woman. She is incubating a baby entirely covered in eyes who the captors hope will usher in a new era for the freak show. Also on stage: a suicidal/tortured ladyclown and a buttoned-down psychopath sadist. Among other delights there's wild sex, mutilation and a self-inflicted coathanger based abortion.

Running for a brief 50-ish minutes, the show merrily skips between disturbing vignettes and ideas: for example, we spend a couple of minutes discussing using bodily functions as a way to mark time. You detect a joy in getting away with subject material like this, the show depicting the captivity and torture of a pregnant woman with such immoral glee that it goes  beyond disturbing and, perversely, wraps back around into pitch-black humour.

The staging is bisected, one half devoted to the sinister duo and their eyeball-baby-messiah caper, the other to the increasingly pathetic misery of a clown. This proves to be a gap across time, and the narrative promptly ties itself up in confusing chronological knots. To put it simply, I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Charitably, you can say that The Godling is less about narrative and more about atmosphere. More honestly, I suspect that all the psycho-circus window dressing is there to disguise that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. As I left I had no idea who any of these characters were, why they had kidnapped a pregnant woman, what the hell a 'godling' is, what's made this clown so damn depressed - even what plane of reality this is supposed to be taking place on.

I could forgive all that if the core aesthetic was novel or powerfully communicated. But it isn't. Frankly, the creepy/scary psycho clown thing is a bit 1990s, making this a bit like a Marilyn Manson music video that's been forced to raid Poundland for props. If the show had gone all out with set and costume design then maybe it'd have found something new, but a mattress, a couple of balloons, a rickety wooden cage and cheapo Halloween costumes do not add up to a startling descent into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.

That said, it wasn't boring. I appreciate a show that doesn't drag its heels, and The Godling zips through its nonsense plot with admirable economy. There's a rate of one weird thing happening about every 3 minutes so it's at least easy to eke out some enjoyment anticipating each unlikely development.

I don't really blame the cast for any of this: they gamely chew up the scenery as they mime butt-fucking, writhe in pain or spike their arms with knitting needles. Everyone understands that subtlety isn't going to wash in this show.  Philip North in particular blares out his lines with gusto, having correctly realised that in the absence of character or plot, it's time to crank up the hamminess factor. Maria Alexe chases the same ideal and partially succeeds - though never quite looks at ease in an ill-fitting corset.

But The Godling (or at least this production of it) just doesn't work, comprehensively bungling whatever it's trying to communicate thematically or even narratively. The best I can say is that it's a mildly diverting exercise in shock, but the kind of shock that's couched in the sensibility of a 14 year old goth. 

But at least it's not boring and doesn't fanny about. Thank god for small mercies.


The Godling is at the Etcetera Theatre until 20 December. Tickets here.

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