Katzpace Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 13th May 2019
“Their exciting ideas bode well for the future but are no replacement for a performance in the present”
Daring, important, thoughtful theatre can be bad. It just can. A play is not a thesis. Even where a production’s messages are incisive, clever and critical to the discourse, it can still be unenjoyable, wooden and boring. Dead Reckoning by Clumsy Bodies has achieved this uncanny combination of having something important and new to say but still being spiritless and beige.
The show is an exploration of what it is to be young and non-binary or trans. It draws on recorded interviews of other non-binary and trans people to whom the collective have spoken. Dead Reckoning is a genuinely ambitious show that is thinking deeply about the emotions and realities of trans and non-binary people and often trying to seriously grapple with the second-order problems of who gets to be ‘trans’, what a ‘proper’ non-binary person is and the human impact of these choices. Through it runs a commitment to make accessible and vulnerable theatre. Our two young actors/writers/directors present spoken word and movement cut together with a concoction of genuinely engaging audiovisual content, audience participation and earnest personal stories.
This makes it all the more painful to say, but these ideas were drowned out by a seemingly low level of preparation combined with a substantial lack of performance.
While the evening was a scratch night, it was still unavoidably alienating as the two actors stood on stage without commitment or performativity. The physical theatre was awkward whilst the dancing was drawn out and appeared unrehearsed (but not in an interesting improvisational way). Acting from the pair lacked any sense of urgency or gravitas and there was a complete over-reliance on the script to deliver that autobiographical energy and vulnerability. For a show that showed such bravery in its themes and opinions, the acting was safe and fearful.
It was consistently hard to ignore that virtually no attempt at professionalism was made in the preparation. Theatrical clutter abounded with clattering mics, not-so-off-stage conversations with AV crew and a confused wardrobe of military-style jumpsuits. It’s not quite enough to say it was simply still a work in progress as elsewhere in the production this wasn’t a fundamentally poorly prepared show. Jess Rahman-González and Oli Isaac Smith of Clumsy Bodies had lavished preparation on the themes by carefully researched the ideas, with sections from historic newspapers, recorded interviews and impressive film and audio.
There was precious little set to speak of which meant that the frame around the stage was a constant littering of props from scenes gone by and scenes yet to come. Costumes were drab olive green RAF style jumpsuits that, I think, were supposed to leave the actors androgynous and sexless but instead cast them as a pair of aeroplane technicians.
All said and done, a play is about what happens on stage. Rahman-González and Smith have put together a complex, thoughtful, compassionate play yet failed to achieve the ‘IT’S ALIVE’ moment of animation. Their exciting ideas bode well for the future but are no replacement for a performance in the present.
Reviewed by William Nash
Katzpace Studio Theatre
Previously reviewed at this venue: