Saturday 24 May 2008

Ebberöds Bank – Q Teatteri

Sweden’s Teater Tribunalen are a “purely political” theatre company who have been making work since 1995. They want to “expose, question and criticise political and economic power structures”. Ebberöds Bank is no doubt typical of their work toward this end. Unfortunately, performed in Swedish with Finnish surtitles, it is virtually impossible to offer an assessment of their success.

That said, even though the piece was pretty dialogue heavy, it remained hugely enjoyable for the most part for the hour and a half first half that we stayed for. It seemed likely that this was the best work we had seen at the Baltic Circle festival. Working very much with foregrounded liveness and performance the show seemed like a more chaotic bit of Kneehigh or Told By an Idiot, a less polished The Right Size, or how one imagines early Complicité to have been. After a bit of preamble involving shouting, clowning around with a drill and someone attaching a whole bunch of clothes pegs to their face, the audience is ushered to their seats and the narrative commences.

As far as I could make out, this involved a foreigner turning up in a small community with $22 million in a massive trunk. Perhaps the dollars weren’t in the trunk, but that was definitely the sum in question. I think everyone wants the money, and set about sucking up to the new arrival. There are two identical blondes, dressed in the same black mac and blonde bobbed wig, or perhaps it’s the same character being played simultaneously by two actresses.

There was a pretty plausible explanation as to why they might have chosen the latter option. One of the two actresses, as well as appearing in the play, also seemed to be heavily involved in childcare duties. We know this because, rather than get a baby-sitter, the actress in question – I can only assume the baby’s mother – had her offspring in a pram on the stage. Occasionally, being a very young baby, said child would start to cry and need picking up. So the character would disappear off for a moment and reappear shushing the infant when not giving her lines. The baby seemed pretty happy with all this, mostly wide-eyed with interest and admiration for the spangly silver strands that made a curtain at the front of the playing space. These s/he would grab in tiny fistfuls whenever the opportunity presented itself. The silver curtain, however, was no competition of for the wig of the woman playing his/her mother’s opposite number. The baby’s irresistible urge to tug at said wig, causing the actress to clutch it to her head while delivering lines, became far and away the most entertaining segment of the show. As far as liveness goes, this was a cat test par excellence. It completely fitted in with the rest of the work - or at least did not derail anything in the performance style – was easily worked into the show, and indeed actually enriched the experience.

Having said that, an hour and a half, seemed quite long enough for a play that none of our group could understand, and we departed at the interval for a few well-deserved drinks at the festival’s last night party. As such, it would be disingenuous to offer any conclusions relating to the show’s overall success or its content, but in terms of form, this was a resounding and hugely reassuring demonstration of the way that this school of ultra-live performing translates well, whatever language it’s in.

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