Brighton Festival 2011
The Basement’s paring of a Taylor Mac-inspired performance poet with a classically comic, highly conceptual Spanish double act made for a thought-prolonging (if unevenly thought-provoking) evening as the seconds danced, spiraled and sometimes crawled by
I’ve rarely seen an audience so divided by a work as during Los Torreznos’ 35 Minutes. Come the final ten, some people were laughing uncontrollably, others trying not to fall asleep, while a few drooped somewhere between disbelief and despair.
What got us all to these very different points was the experience of watching two Spanish gentlemen, smartly suited and seated squarely in the centre of the space in parallel wooden chairs, count out every one of the 2100 seconds that make up 35 Minutes.
35 Minutes, they explained in an introduction together in broken English, is ‘an amount of time that a normal audience could have a normal attention’. It is also ‘enough to communicate a clear idea in a complete way’.
To begin with the seconds tap danced on their tongues, teeth flashing and lips stretching over hard vowels as they attacked the task with gusto. Ten minutes in their eyes began to close and hands to beat in concentration. At 20 sweat started to seep through their shirts and trickle down their brows. And by 30 they were trying to wrench their still-counting mouths from their faces simply to break the monotony.
Like any marathon, this was about getting into a rhythm and setting your own markers. So they counted one set of 100 under their breath, another with their now painfully dry tongues out, another with their fingers up their nostrils, ringing the maximum amount of variety out of the most fundamentally repetitive of actions.
Applying the conventions of a classic comic double act to the most conceptual of theatrical explorations, Los Torreznos’ Jaime Vallaure and Rafael Lamata have their contrasting physiques, expressive faces and considerable charm on their side. And they have their age, too. For me much of the comedy arose from watching two smartly dressed middle aged men embark on the sort of entirely pointless, self-imposed challenge children 5 weeks into the 6 week summer holiday. In this respect it reminded me of Tim Crouch’s ‘My Arm’, in which a boy raises his arm above his head and decides to see how long he can keep it there. The audience members in hysterics were, I suspect, those who have experienced the perverse sense of enjoyment at the heart of every feat of endurance.
In the opening half of this time-themed bill, ‘80s-born performance artist-cum-beat poet Drew Taylor’s ‘Time After Time’ led us tottering and be-wigged through the passage of a day in his life, Cyndi Lauper and Take That lyrics interloping with a distinctly Joycian ode to the morning shit. Sparse props – an umbrella, an alarm clock, a bowl of cheese – circled the space, a humdrum domestic counterpoint to his flamboyant aesthetic on which he never fully capitalised.
The considerable influence of Taylor Mac shone through in his genuine, eyelash-batting humility and sense of fragile lyrical beauty as well as in the elaborate face glitter. And it was no surprise, when he imagined his own funeral, to find the latter’s taxidermied cat on the fantasy guest list alongside Douglas Coupland’s tap-dancing son. But for a piece so taken with self-expression, only the sweetly sashaying rhythms of his poetry felt forcefully his own.