Theatre: That's No Chicken Gut. It's Schizoid Subjectivity
Butler, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
TWENTY minutes in, you could remind yourself what had happened so far by glancing at the floor. It was a sticky mix of water, feathers, scraps of newspaper and flour. The Spanish company La Fura dels Baus had thrown all this at each other, and sometimes - not just metaphorically - at us.
In Manes, their new show, which opens the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, La Fura dels Baus modestly takes on themes of "birth, life, death and regeneration". Seven hundred of us shuffled into one of the Three Mills Studios, next to the mudbanks of Bow Creek, to see this batty, inspired company - the one which did the opening ceremony at the Barcelona Olympics - reinvent the idea of promenade theatre. In Manes we don't follow the actors around. The actors follow us. They shove us aside as they push a trolley through with a bank of lights, or create little circles of spectators as barrels roll around with people inside, or send us hurrying back after they've taken gulps of water and spewed out showers of spray.
It owes a lot to Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty. The imagery is apocalyptic, the energy intense. Techno music pounds out. Naked figures gibber on upright beams. A shaven-haired man with black gauntlets trundles in on a trolley - like a king on a chariot - and acts as midwife to a woman in labour who's hanging upside down on a beam. Blood runs down her T-shirt. As she gives birth, the man plucks out a dead chicken.
It's fascinating to watch. But what does it mean? Like a Rorschach test, you take your pick. Instead of those bilateral symmetrical ink- blots we have a feverish succession of activities - a Goyaesque mix of blood, sweat and chicken guts. Naked couples copulate. Little mummified figures are deposited, next to oil lamps, where they twitch on the ground. Are the dead babies a reference to abortion, or the battery chickens to animal rights? I was glad La Fura dels Baus had performed it in a garbled mix of Catalan, Portuguese and English. The press dossier speaks, inpenetrably, of "dual conscience", "schizoid subjectivity" and "permeable barriers". If I'd known it was about that, this charged, suggestive and stirring atmosphere would have evaporated.
The European premiere of Neil Simon's 30th stage-play, Proposals, has a set you could sell as a piece of real estate. Designer Robert Jones gives us the back porch of a little gabled beach house. Beyond the swing seat, potplants and garden furniture, there's a lawn, paths running off into a wood and shingle along the edge. The audience sits, as it were, in the lake.
As the programme itself notes, Proposals is Neil Simon's first outdoor play. It is also his first play with a major black character. As Clemma the domestic, Shezwae Powell tucks her arms under her bosom, clucks, tuts and "aha"s and "ahem"s. It's vintage mama acting. From the daughter's point of view, director Ian Brown couldn't have come up with a stronger symbol of warmth and security.
Which is exactly what's under threat. As the narrator, Powell takes us back to a summer cottage in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in the 1950s. As so often with Neil Simon, there's a strong …
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Publication information: Article title: Theatre: That's No Chicken Gut. It's Schizoid Subjectivity. Contributors: Butler, Robert - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 12, 1998. Page number: 8. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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