Monday 4 August 2014

SmallWaR – Traverse

[seen 03/08/14]

[no image found]

Apparently last year Valenijn Dhaenens’s BigmoutH [his silly capitalisation] made a big splash on the Fringe. It’s back this year for three dates later in the Fringe. MeanwhilE, we have to make do with his new piece SmallWaR.  It’s Monday morning, and I’m being snippy and UnfaiR.

The basic deal with SmallWaR is that it’s a mash-up of various accounts of horrible injury suffered by soldiers in wars. It owes a great – uncredited – deal to Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (recently seen at the Southwark Playhouse, and the inspiration for Metallica’s One, fact-and-metal fans). It’s a solo show, albeit one with a lot of (admittedly very impressive) video work. Dhaenens, dressed as a WWI nurse, wheels on a small hospital bed with big telly with a video of himself armless and legless on it. Various ghosts of this quad-amputee peel out from the TV screen and go and stand projected onto a large, low video-projection back-wall, all dressed in their modern hospital gowns. You might at this stage begin to get an inkling of the problem that this piece of “live” theatre has: there is only one live element within it. And that live element – even if he were pulling out all the stops and giving the blood‘n’guts performance of a lifetime – is constrained by the fact he has to absolutely stay in time with these projected selves. As it happens, he isn’t being remotely bloody or gutsy. The key-note here is deadpan, laconic, ironic. It’s appealing enough as a mode for about ten to fifteen minutes. For 1hr10 it’s pretty enervating. You have to will yourself to keep listening to the material. Which would be just about acceptable if the material wasn’t so a) patchy, and b) inevitable for the most part.

TBH, far and away the most interesting thing included in the piece is a totally unexpected appearance from Attila the Hun, talking about smashing the Roman Empire. Which, thanks to references to the Romans’ “cowardly habit of attacking civilians” and “forming their defence lines and hiding behind their ridiculous locked shields...” recalls with horrifying clarity the current situation in the Middle East (I’ll let you decide which side are Romans and which are Huns. In a way it hardly matters).

Like Men in the Cities, Confirmation, and even Don Quixote, this is a piece about men, war and violence, at the heart of which are words like “valiant” and “honourable”. Coupled with Horizontal Collaboration, it does feel so far if the theme of last year’s Fringe was “women and feminism” this year’s is “men and war”. And it feels pretty apocalyptic. What with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the ongoing US/USSR conflict being played out in Ukraine, and Israel/Palestine, and the 10th anniversary of the unimaginable catastrophe that was the First World War, I did find myself trudging over the Meadows in the driving rain the other day wondering how long it was going to be before we were all drawn into some horrific new conflict, and how long after that it would involve conscription, and how that would be, and what use would “being a theatre critic” be then.

But, for all that, the show, feelings of impending disaster notwithstanding, is basically: underpowered, not-metal this:

No comments: