Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Multi award-winning Theatre Movement Bazaar (Anton’s Uncles, Track 3, Hot Cat) returns from Los Angeles to present an explosive vaudevillian creation inspired by The Godfather films and novel. TMB upends the gangster genre, looks askance at mafia mythology and shakes down this iconic story to create a new work, echoing the source and investigating family dynamics, power, and being an Italian American. There will be dancing, singing, criminal behaviour, and pasta.”
One feature of outstanding physical theatre is that it successfully offers a truly original spectacle, not in its various parts, but as a whole. That spectactle doesn’t need to be all bells and whistles; it can be a spectactle for its simplicity of realisation. To draw on an existing, iconic movie series, and to then alchemically mix it all up an offer it back as something fresh and new in itself, is a remarkable achievement. That’s what lies at the heart of Big Shot, a new production from award-winning Theatre Movement Bazaar, from the pen of Richard Alger and under the direction of Tina Kronis.
Big Shot, throughout, is almost always some kind of visual, vocal and musical spectacle, beyond the cleverness of its text, its intellectual content. Yet that spectacle never feels as if it is put there for its own sake. The visual and vocal feast is very consciously put to the service of the production – the content and the intention. The spectacle is never an end in itself.
A presentation and mashup of The Family, The Godfather, with an underlying look at family with a little “f”, Big Shot ranges across comedy, musical, cabaret, clowning, punk drama and even straight-faced, straight-laced theatre. It’s all in there and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I came out smiling, tingling, and wanting to go back in and see it again. As with Anton’s Uncles, their previous award-winner, you could see Big Shot twice and still not catch it all. A collage that cares more for the spirit of exploration than the engineering of linear narrative, Big Shot may not be easy to follow in terms of that narrative, and yet an impact emerges where you feel you have been part of a shared experience. I guarantee, on a second viewing, you’ll pick up more – you’ll “get” more”. But you don’t need to “get more” to savour it and to gain immense value from it the first time round. I’m left with the lingering after-taste of the whole thing, memories of the movement, still moving in me. And I had fun, I was entertained, and occasionally disturbed.
For an exploration of the Godfather, there’s remarkably little violence, none of the shock and shlock of blood and gore you might expect. This is left to explanation and a sense that it is all still in there without needing to see it reproduced with off stage gun effects and fake blood. You see. “This is not the Godfather.”
This production is vintage Theatre Movement Bazaar, and at the same time it is freshly bottled Fringe. Parts of it reminded me of punk cabaret, a hint of Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective, and I celebrate the skilled mix of styles, in song, movement and word. At various points, the performers turn into a twelve-legged beast called “movement”. This is a piece of variety theatre, rooted in physical work. Spoken word, in TMB’s productions, is as physical as bodily movement and much of the comedy arises from the quickfire shifts from frenzied movement to utter stillness, as if we are all suddenly trapped like rabbits in the headlights of the content. Playing with pace, song style, mood and genre, this is one of the wackiest TMB shows I have seen. But it all works and captures the menace, the chaos, the intensity, the angst and even the philosophy of The Family.
On trial here is the author, the actors, and even the Mafia itself. We, the audience, are an extra character, looking on, aghast, like Brando himself, at what was done with the franchise, in the name of popular culture at the expense of Art. Puzo tried to hijack the reader with sex and violence. We, the audience were willingly hijacked by TMB’s Big Shot. Perhaps the wonderful irony of the piece is that we all willingly lap it up, just as we all invited violence of The Family into our cinemas and onto our TV sets in our cosy living rooms.
There’s a beat poet feel to some of the narrative and much of the comedy arises from the sudden shifts from seriousness to clownish movement, or a song that suddenly cuts into the mood and transforms it into its opposite or into something entirely different.
In places, Big Shot is drenched in words. Sometimes the sheer pace, text-load, extent of movement can overpower the senses. Previous work from TMB has made more use of stillness, and I think that would benefit Big Shot here and there as well.
So yes, as with all TMB work, this is a physical theatre spectacle. But it is much more than that. It’s theatre taking liberties with the usual boundaries. It is playful, funny, inventive, silly, intense, loaded with bathos and a large dose of the tongue-in-cheek, carried by consistently fine performances from the whole cast. Yet Big Shot also explores something, unravels the myth of the Godfather, poking at it from different angles, exposing the times, asking questions and, ultimately, entertaining us for just over an hour. Outstanding work from Theatre Movement Bazaar – again!