Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Vocal gymnast Hannah Silva uses a variety of media and art forms to dissect and parody the language of everyday politics in a thought provoking and innovative piece of theatre.
Claptrap. It’s a word that crops up throughout Hannah Silva’s tour de force performance down at Zoo Southside. This whirlwind of humanity explodes onto the stage with striking force and energy, seeming to make sense as she seeks to inspire and at the same time commune and empathise with her distinguished audience, as all political leaders do. Yet, as your ear becomes attuned to the dialogue, you realise that what she is spouting is utter gibberish. Complete and utter twaddle in fact, in the best absurdist Beckett or Campton styles.
It’s a skilful dissection of political and other forms of language with clichés and sound bites deconstructed and reassembled seemingly at random but in such a manner that they actually begin to make sense. This, ironically, reinforces the central message of Opposition – that much of the rhetoric in today’s society is completely meaningless and a triumph (if that is the right word) of style over substance.
Silva is something of a vocal gymnast with a capacity for rapid delivery and the ability to cut together not only a wide diaspora of text but also a volley of sound incorporating syllables or even just single letters. But the human mind has this almost infinite capacity to adapt to any situation, and so you find yourself reconstructing her deconstructions into something that you can process and understand. Which is precisely when she gets smart on you. You’re just getting the hang of things and a loop pedal is introduced allowing her to syncopate her own dialogue, onto which she throws poetry and occasionally music from one of a number of tin whistles concealed around the set. Absurdism suddenly rules again.
Communication specialists will tell you that the words we use account for about a tenth of the impact of any message; the rest comes from the use of voice and your body language. Silva’s performance is about as clear a demonstration of this truism as you could find. We know exactly the message she is conveying, even though it’s complete gobbledegook. This clever parody is augmented by good out use of sound and light technologies, including extensive use of up lighting to create shadows as she moves around the stage.
This was certainly a different take on contemporary politics. Whether some of Silva’s physical theatre is an allegorical representation of the verbal contortions that the political elite weave as they seek to satisfy the media’s insatiable appetite for the next story at the expense of actually achieving societal progress, or whether it just comes under the heading of claptrap (some of it did look a trifle superfluous) I’ll leave up to you.
But, as I listened tonight to yet more media-savvy but ideologically bereft politicians vying to grab the headlines in the battle with Britain’s new wave of rioters and looters, I couldn’t help thinking that she had chosen an excellent word in claptrap – it captures the essence of what’s going on around us right now.