Saturday, 12 August 2017

5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist – Zoo, Edinburgh

[seen 11/08/17]

As regular readers will know, I absolutely loathe and detest 99.999% of me-theatre, confessional monologues, true-life solo-shows, etc. In general, I fucking hate every self-pitying, sentimental, oversharey, emotionally-bullying last one of them. They are (almost without exception) a terrible, terrible error of thinking, the antithesis of theatre, and should be actively boycotted, if not banned outright. :-)

I’m not fully sure why it is, then, that I thought YesYesNoNo/Sam Ward’s 5 Encounters... was in any way acceptable. I think, in part (assuming that it is all “true” in the first place – insofar as one person’s version of anything can ever be called “the truth”) it’s because a) it’s not really complaining or demanding our sympathy or understanding, b) if anything – a bit like The Shape of The Pain – it is partly about the impossibility of ever really explaining or understanding anything, c) it’s almost like a bleak, black, ironic joke at the expense of “me-theatre”. It offers neither a glib feel-good message nor a sententious telling-off to its audience. Instead, at root, it’s a theatrical exploration of a philosophical problem. Interestingly, it’s also interactive – which is another thing I often hate. Here the interactivity/voluntary-participation is managed tactfully and carefully, rather than as a device for achieving cheap laughs through bullying or ridicule.

The meat of the piece is Sam talking about these titular five encounters. They’re essentially anonymous encounters for sex with other men. The piece basically takes us through each encounter, from the posting of an advert by Sam, through to whatever end-point he decides; sometimes when he physically leaves the encounter, once a couple of emails after that. The descriptions are deadpan, and as matter-of-fact and un-erotic as descriptions of sexual activity can be. Audience members in search of titillation will have to work extremely hard to find any (unless, of course, deadpan anti-erotica is your fetish, in which case: bingo). These encounters are played off against Sam talking us through those “36 Questions On The Way To Love” (Ward has actually done proper research, and traced them back to their 1970s origin point, rather than their 2000s reincarnation as pieces like the that one I’ve just linked to). In this way, alongside the rather bleak, grinding descriptions of loveless, mostly quite joyless-sounding sex, there are also these questions apparently designed to achieve “intimacy” and/or “love”. At one point, a volunteer couple stand in front of a big fan and name all the things they like about each other while Sam drops pink confetti petals into the wind blowing between them while “romantic” music plays. It’s both actually rather touching, and also a) completely contrived/constructed, b) an enjoyably sardonic commentary on at least the bullshit trappings that surround “love” and/or “romance”.

Being pretty-much old enough to be Sam’s dad, I’ll admit that maybe I didn’t fully empathise with this level of Liebesangst, so much as recognise it from when I was much younger. But it’s a clear-sighted, sincere enough piece for that to worry me a bit, rather than make me feel condescending toward it. There is something admirable, I think, about having theatremakers worrying about the quality of truth, or empathy, or honesty that is possible. Indeed, it seems fundamental to the very core of (some of) what theatre’s about.

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