Turning the tables [by Sharu Delilkan]
Of all this year’s festival shows The Show Must Go On has to be the most memorable. Not for acting, lighting, staging, music, writing, dialogue (there is none) or dance, but the real and raw effect it has on the audience.
Descriptions such as ‘challenging’, ‘groundbreaking’, ‘brave’ and ‘provocative’ come to mind but I’ll try to refrain and just say that my mind was whirring at a million kms an hour trying to comprehend what I had just experienced, standing on the steps outside the Mercury Theatre after the show.
If you expect to sit back and have the actors on stage do all the work for you, The Show Must Go On is bound to surprise.
But if you’re there to be tested, something which the cult figure in the international dance world Jerome Bel is notorious for, you’re in for a treat if you get into the spirit of things.
I almost wish I could have turned my seat to watch the audience’s unexpected reactions, and the utter frustrationfrom those expecting to be ‘entertained’ in the conventional sense of the word.
A series of familiar musical tracks ranging from Lady Gaga to Edith Piaf and The Police were a great complement to the comical narrative.
The interruption and abrupt ending of each song coupled with the intermittent, blatant and unsubtle interpretation of the lyrics conveyed an air of nonchalance and an overall uncaring attitude, in keeping with the nerve-tingling nature of the show.
The curve ball thrown to the audience was a great source of confusion which resulted in giggles and someone even shouting “Hallelujah! Come on!”
The stark stage punctuated by the DJ console, in the front of the stage, was inhabited by none other than James Wenley (whom I have a vested interest in mentioning).
His lackadaisical and ponderous DJing was a little concerning, putting each CD back into its case before playing the other, and even seemed amateurish at first but its reason soon became apparent.
His non-descript DJ role is turned on its head when the spotlight shifts to Wenley who dances solo to Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. Definitely worth noting, as it prompted whistles, applause and put big smiles on faces.
I also loved the cross-section of performers on stage who were dressed in casual street wear, represented all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities.
Without giving too much away I will go on to do just that.
The effect on the audience was amazing. I observed the audience angered, argumentative, bashful, bored, confused, dancing, elated, embarrassed, fraught, heckling, nervously laughing, spellbound, transfixed as well as some actually leaving and then coming back again. As a psychological study of human reaction in relation to expectation the show was masterful. And the human need to fill in the silent gaps, with comments, shouts, claps and whistles, was very telling. It was so palpable – you could almost cut the tension in the air with a knife.
In keeping with the show’s unconventional spirit there was no leading man or woman, no apparent hierarchy of actors. But you couldn’t help desperately trying to categorise, rate, comprehend, story tell and justify in your own mind what was happening around you.
It even crossed my mind for a split second that some of the audience must be part of the show – so emotionally ragged and raw was their reaction. But in reality there were those who genuinely had no idea what was happening and were obviously disturbed and agitated, while others were in their element because they ‘got it’. One way or another everybody reacted and was touched by this confrontational show. After all isn’t that what good performance art should do?
A comment from one of the performers Paul Ellis after the show was quite revealing. He said “It was as difficult for us to stand on stage and do nothing as it was for the audience to wonder why we weren’t moving.”
Once again I reiterate, The Show Must Go On was definitely memorable, challenging and did I mention groundbreaking and provocative?
I’m throwing down the gauntlet – check it out if you dare!
* The Show Must Go On plays as part of the Auckland Arts Festival at the Mercury Theatre, until March 19th.
More information at the Auckland Arts Festival Website