Brighton Fringe 2018
It’s not often I start a review with – ‘How am I going to start this review?’, but that’s where I am with this one.
But that was then – at the start. I must have finished it eventually, or you wouldn’t be reading it now. Whenever it is that you are reading it.
For you are in my future – reading what I wrote in your past – which is my present …
Complicated, isn’t it?
There were three women on the stage at The Spiegeltent, and they would have agreed with me. “Time is very complicated”, one of them said. “You think it looks like this” … Her colleague posed as if pulling back a longbow – Time’s Arrow, of course, proceeding straight ahead in one direction.
“But it looks like this”. Now the colleague crouched a bit and twisted her arms and fingers sinuously upwards, like a tree branching or some creature spiralling round and back upon itself. Time moving in anything but a straight line.
“It’s almost impossible to completely understand it, because we can only experience it – slice by slice”.
Blimey. It sounded like a serious lecture on physics or philosophy – but Vida was there as well, on stage watching the demonstration. Vida’s about a metre tall, with red hair, and when we first entered the performance space she was writing a letter. Actually, three of them were writing the letter, because Vida’s a puppet and it needed the other two women to move her hands and her head, as she put her pencil to one side and ran her eyes over the lines she’s just written.
Vida works in a call centre. She spends her day phoning strangers and asking them about their consumer activities. Vida finds her present existence pretty pointless, so she writes letters to herself in the future. She leaves phone voice messages for herself, too. She’s been there far, far too long, so one day she just decides to walk out …
‘The Looker’ is intensely visual. As well as Vida, there are a host of other puppets and animal costumes. There are sheep, lots of sheep, and a trio of ‘radio dream analyst’ puppets, who looked like the Rhine-maidens from Wagner’s ‘Ring’. There’s very witty physical theatricality, some quite suggestive playing around with fruit, and wonderfully over-the-top voices and sound effects. So it’s very much a show for children, and there were lots of them at the performance we saw. But it’s also a quite philosophical production, as the bits about time demonstrate, so it works for an older audience too. A number of scenes dealt with alienation, with the pointlessness of existence, and the frantic over-production that a materialist consumer society demands. Stuff, stuff, stuff. “We couldn’t stop making stuff – it’s just who we are”.
That last quote is from a dustman at a rubbish dump where Vida pitches up for a while. Consumer goods have their own life-stories, and this is where all the stuff ends up. As he speaks about ‘stuff’ – it’s actually Sarah Ratheram in a high-vis jacket and cap – he’s stuffing discarded bric-a-brac down the front of his (thankfully opaque) grey tights. There were squeals of delight from a lot of the youngsters, and as I glanced down at the two young girls on the end of our bench they were transfixed – open mouthed and saucer-eyed.
Sabotage Theatre have put together a show that manages to reach every member of its audience – though not necessarily all at the same moments. Vida meets a butterfly – Caroline Bowman, arms outstretched holding a swathe of blue-green silk as gorgeous wings. The youngsters loved the colour and movement as Bowman fluttered and swooped. But then Vida asked – “Do you remember what it was like before? When you were a chrysalis, do you look back at all?” The butterfly replied crossly – “I AM a butterfly, and I’m incredibly busy, and I don’t have much time”.
Wow! What a telling comment on the human existence – on our narrow perspective and our short lifespan. Locked into the thin slice of time that is ‘now’, with no sense of how things got to be how they are. Most of the children would have missed that, but it struck home to us adults. That’s the skill of the writing here – there’s something for everyone, in very quick succession.
Vida had a green dress and apron to contrast with her red hair, and later in the show Zoe Hinks, the second puppeteer (and Artistic Director of Sabotage) became a taller Vida for us. Zoe had red hair, too, so the substitution was almost seamless – as believable as when the cast donned sheep heads to point up the lack of individuality in the human species. After all – “I’ve sometimes believed six impossible things before breakfast!” as another girl in a dress and apron once said …
Vida the woman can talk to us direct, and we can read her expressions. Vida the puppet can fly. And be free. It took both Vidas to perform Sabotage’s amazing show – funny, subversive, deeply philosophical, and beautiful. Imaginative lighting, and Sarah Ratheram’s haunting clarinet playing, took us far, far away from Brighton’s Spiegeltent. At the end, as the applause died down, I looked at my watch and an hour had gone by. An hour! Surely not. Time really is very slippery and complicated.