Ok. So the review I really want to write of You Me Bum Bum Train can’t be published until the piece has finished its run, because I’d like to engage with specifics, but to engage with them, I’d have to say what they were, which would be a pain for anyone who was going to see the thing.
Until such time, in order to fulfil my contract with the Barbican (under whose auspices, this Oxford Samuel Beckett Trust Award-funded show is presented, and by whom press tickets are granted), I’ll offer some general comments and a lot of encouragement for you to try to get hold of a ticket.
You know the basic premise, right (you’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed all the advance publicity)? You turn up, on your own, at the LEB Building in Bethnal Green at an allotted time, wearing practical clothes and with no small amount of apprehension. You are greeted, hand over everything to a cloakroom assistant and are then seated in a wheelchair and pushed out of the lobby.
Then, for the next forty minutes (is it really forty? It seems like about five minutes) you are catapulted through a series of scenes, the precise nature of which it seems only fair not to reveal until they’ve ceased to exist. Suffice it to say, one is variously impressed, delighted, amused, mildly worried, occasionally embarrassed and sometimes made to jump a little, with the result that by the end your awareness is heightened, your pulse has risen, and you’ve got something of the reckless, energetic fearlessness usually only available through a hard night’s drinking.
YMBBT’s creators, Morgan Lloyd and Kate Bond, trained as visual artists rather than theatre-makers. I have no idea how much theatre they might have undertaken to see for themselves in the meantime, but my guess is: not much. In this instance, it works to their advantage. Instead of recognisable theatrical references, what we have here is a fascinating mixture of the logic of dreams, the visual language of cinema and the unexpectedness of late-night channel surfing, unhampered by a reverence for theatre’s history or current trends.
In fact, one of the most striking things about YMBBT is how few of the scenarios into which you’re plunged are ever seen in theatre. And it’s not simply because of the perspective change. Of course the immersion factor does completely alter the way in which you experience the scenes – being “inside”, either as participant or observer, is different to looking though a fourth wall – but the “subjects” or “situations” themselves that are also new. Or rather, they are nearly all stock scenarios, but stock scenarios from film or TV, rather than the usual subjects of theatre.
In a way, YMBBT is like a hectic fast-paced exam in pop-cultural knowledge. The game is almost like a matter of correctly identifying the new trope in which you’ve found yourself, and then adjusting your behaviour accordingly (or not).
In fact, I’d be very interested to know what strategies other participants adopted either throughout or in particular scenes.
There’s more than a hint of narcissism about the piece, which ends up perhaps reflecting more on you and how you deal with situations than on the situations themselves. Or maybe that’s just my own narcissistic reading.
But beyond this, when it’s possible to talk about the actual scenes themselves, there are interesting observations to be made about the world that the piece chooses to construct, in terms of what has been included and excluded. Analysis of the state-of-the-nation-ness on display here also wouldn’t go amiss, but is impossible until the thing closes.
Suffice it to say, for now, it’s an impressively broad landscape that YMBBT offers but an interestingly selective one, and it’d be interesting to hear, somewhere down the line, whether there were specific rationales behind the choices and whether there were any particular themes, unified or disparate, that the company were interested in drawing out for their audiences. Or perhaps the thing should be read more as a collection of pieces in a gallery. Curated, to an extent, but not necessarily with the aim of telling a story, per se.
Anyway, more when possible. Until then, although it’s sold out, it might still be worth seeing if there are returns, or even whether it’s possible to swell the ranks of the volunteer “audiences”...