New Diorama Theatre
Reviewed – 6th April 2022
“Rhum + Clay have presented us with a rumination rather than a finished thought”
On first leaving the auditorium, I really have no idea what I just watched. And the journey home doesn’t lend much clarity to be honest. But for the sake of explaining it to you: In the first half, Spooner and Wells play-act a tyrannical take-over, and in the second, they themselves suffer under a tyrant. But this is a major over-clarification; the story itself feels a lot more bewildering.
In the first half, co-creators, directors and performers Julian Spooner and Matt Wells perform a play within the play which Wells’ character has written, in which he plays a good politician, i.e a boring one who talks about policy and does what he says he’ll do. But Spooner is dissatisfied, feeling the show should be more ‘fun’, so he forcibly takes over as an idiot tyrant, getting more and more tyrannical.
It feels very chaotic in a ‘The Play that Goes Wrong/One Man Two Guvnors’ kind of vibe, and I’m initially concerned that this slapstick-style broad comedy will last the whole 75 minutes. But that concern is overtaken by fear, as Spooner becomes more and more aggressive about audience participation, peaking as he demands everyone repeats after him, “This is a fun show” and so on. He then gets stroppy that not everyone is joining in, and demands that anyone sitting next to someone not joining in puts their hand up. In this way it’s very affecting: I’m suddenly genuinely fearful of my neighbour, and toy with joining in just so I’m not dragged to the front and shamed.
In the second half, the two appear in their underwear, and an overhead voice orders them to perform mime acts in full clown costume while having no communication between each other. The sudden and utter change in tone is initially very affecting: the genuinely beautifully choreographed mime acts combine with Khaled Kurbeh’s ominous soundtrack to create a very compelling and menacing mystery. Who is making the orders? What are they threatening if they’re disobeyed? But much like the excessive chaos in the first act, excessive mystery in the second grows tiring.
As one has come to expect from a Rhum + Clay production, the performances are high energy, high intensity and compelling in themselves. Kurbeh’s accompanying music, a synth-heavy soundscape with use of a small drum kit, is bizarre but fitting. And Blythe Brett’s design is perfectly restrained: Besides a small misbehaving LED sign and a trolly full of props, the only major stage design is a semi-shear curtain which descends after the first act and, with the help of a light shining through, shows a glimpse of the performers’ backstage relationship as well as the sudden changing of pace and atmosphere. It then becomes opaque when the light is shut off. It’s a very simple idea but brilliant. The Pierrot clown costumes in the second half are also a very clever decision: whilst being forced to dress as clowns should seem ridiculous if sinister, Pierrot’s white face paint and loose white clothes lend it an immediate pathos; Spooner and Wells seem tragically trapped.
The problem is not in the execution of the idea, but in the idea itself: it needs a plot. Rhum + Clay have presented us with a rumination rather than a finished thought.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Cesare De Giglio
New Diorama Theatre until 30th April
Recently reviewed at this venue: