Brighton Fringe 2018
Dog is a graffiti artist with a surprising past returning for one night only. Discover whether there are strings attached in this intimate portrayal of an aging icon as he drifts into obscurity.
I will admit, I didn’t know there was a graffiti artist culture. I didn’t grow up in the UK and hadn’t really heard of Banksy, but in the write up which was a bit Greek to me, one bit jumped out, “darkly comic play inspired by Pinocchio.” I thought this could be brilliant.
I went to the website, because with a massive case of jetlag I wasn’t sure I could conquer a 21:50 show and a nearly 2 hour trip back to Eastbourne on the night bus, but when I read the mission statement of Yama Theatre Productions, the brain child behind “Are Strings Attached?”, the second collaboration between Simon Lovat and novelist Sebastian Beaumont who gained critical acclaim for their previous site specific immersive theatre piece “Dead Happy”, incidentally also the inspiration behind the name which means literally Dead Theatre, I knew if they could pull off such lofty goals, this would be a great show worthy of the effort.
Sitting in the Sweet Venue, we were immediately transformed with the entrance of DOG, an aging icon of a bygone era of street art, the graffiti artist, as he examines the walls for his next tagging job, here in what is meant to be our living room or perhaps office space. What follows is nothing short of a masterclass in character development. I can only assume that a great deal of research went into the creation of DOG, whose character and origin story is so fully realized as to truly gray the lines between fantasy and reality. As DOG explains how he became a graffiti artist we are treated to a winding, evolving mosaic of childhood experiences complicated by a doting father who only wished to dote on the preferred aspects of his overachieving son.
Throughout the dialogue, told simply but effectively in the intimate space as though conversing with a friend, DOG draws a line between his beloved Pinocchio and the real world challenges of being a real boy with real desires and goals, which butt up against and conflict with those of the previous generation.
It is an imperfect script and though the small space is well-utilized, the insistence on manifesting a visual metaphor of childhood images, coupled with the technical limitations of the space lead to some clunky, overly long transitions which frustratingly interrupt the otherwise seamless narrative. I’m loathe to make the point because the final visual payoff is truly satisfying and as this is the story of a graffiti artist, the visual metaphor makes sense if only there were a less disruptive solution. Some moments are more successful than others but the overall effect is spellbinding and the final pieces to the adult puzzle which leaves DOG questioning his path and in choosing to pivot wildly finds himself alienated from family and friends are heart-wrenching not only in their sincerity but also in their familiarity.
“Are Strings Attached?” brilliantly explores through urban subculture the existential questions of the meaning of life, success, satisfaction, and the pursuit not of excellence but a desire to embrace mediocrity. A knowledge of Banksy or Bjorn Borg isn’t necessary and in fact, I suspect the write up does this artist a bit of a disservice as it stands to distance audiences who feel perhaps in not having a working knowledge of these particular icons that they aren’t a part of the clique who would enjoy this show, however the themes of isolation, dissatisfaction, and alienation are universal.
Don’t be put off by the write-up or the late night time slot. Take a chance on this hidden gem. I promise you won’t be disappointed, no strings attached.