Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Any physical theatre piece faces the near-certainty of falling the wrong side of the line marked Pretention. That this astonishingly realized multi-media piece should stay the right side of that line for as long as it does is quite an achievement and although it runs out of steam and ideas in the final quarter, the commitment of the six young performers never wains. With a bit of pruning, what is currently an unarguably impressive achievement of a show would be something really special.
Eschewing a forward narrative, Anomie (Durkheim’s word referring to living life with loose ends) is a series of mostly-danced vignettes about the loneliness of the modern world: “the peculiar anomie of our age”. One girl talks about her mass of superstitions, a burden but which “helps to keep a little bit of calm in my life”. Someone else, abandoned by her lover, says “I’ll find a way to dry my tears and deal with my life quietly”. Another, with a line which perhaps defines the theme of the show the best, says “I’m worrying about matters of no great importance and I’m losing my mind.”
The ways in which these ideas of loneliness, claustrophobia and abandonment are visually expressed are ingeniously inventive. The performers’ bodies seem to move by magic in and out of the television screens which constantly rise and fall at the back of the skeletal set. There’s an outstanding hospital sequence in which one of the boys lifts a girl by her waist and yet her upper body and legs stay vertical. A very clever sequence in which the multi-purpose mattresses keep being reconfigured around, above and infront of the scene’s lone character as if to suggest a series of padded cells encasing him or the walls moving in on him in a nightmare. The coldness of the world is shown with the reveal of shivering near nude figures in the opening who we then see again later on.
The imagination of the director and company is never in doubt. To what it is applied is more of a mixed bag, though. The later stages felt, to me, lacking in the focus we’d come to expect from the earlier material and wasn’t telling us anything new (or, at least, not that I could understand). And there are one or two presentation mis-steps. There’s a long sequence in which the actors crouch and move on top of the silver metal scaffolding which frames the design. Fine, but with no lights up there they’re moving around in near-darkness while the stage itself is lit up like a Christmas tree. Had they been lit (perhaps with the rest of the stage dark) one could well imagine rather an eerie sequence- as if children hiding in a loft. In fact we get a few minutes of pissing through a keyhole- very clever but not really art.
With a bit of pruning, and perhaps the application of the “only keep this if the show would collapse without it” test, what is currently a marvelously bold and admirable creative and physical achievement would move closer to being a true homage to the work of Complicite which it is clearly inspired by or, at least, overlaps with. They should probably take a leaf out of Simon McBurney’s book, in fact, and end with more of a wow than they do here- any show relying on spectacle benefits by ending with a presentational bang. But all that aside, Anomie is a mighty imaginative achievement and it deserves to amaze and inspire audiences on its upcoming tour.