Wednesday 11 May 2016

ÜberŠkrip – Mladinsko Theatre, Ljubljana

[seen 06/05/16]

Right. So. As I understand it, ÜberŠkrip is a *kind of* remake of the show that made the Mladinsko theatre’s name when it premièred in 1975. Up until that point, Mladinsko had been more officially a youth theatre (indeed, Mladinsko means “youth”). However, thanks to tightening of official restrictions in Yugoslavia, in the wake of the 1968 student protests, most subversive and/or avant garde and political theatremakers were effectively blacklisted by any main, “adult” theatres. As such, anyone with any real ambitions would seem to turn up at Mladinsko, making work with and for young people, which effectively passed beneath the government radar – not considered worth a censor’s time, I guess.

[As an aside: what a fascinating situation. Of course, it’s important to recognise that as a country of only 2 million inhabitants, and with only maybe 250,000 living in Ljubljana itself – even when it was a part of Yugoslavia, it apparently felt incredibly federalised and remote from the concerns of Belgrade – there is not much that can necessarily be directly transposed to UK with it’s 63 million in habitants and capital city with four times the population of this entire country. But maybe it’s worth thinking about a bit...]

So, what the original thing was was a piece called “[NAME?]” and was a kind of devised piece incorporating critiques of fashion, the Vietnam War, and Yugoslavia’s own (near-)foundation stories of the anti-fascist partisans in WWII.

None of that would be immediately obvious if you came to this piece blind. (But then, how much contextual information ever is? What actual sense does any event make without its immediate and historical artistic and social contexts? Yes, even British ones.)

The form of the piece is largely musical. Indeed, in a different venue, or without seating, you could maybe even claim it as “concert-theatre”. (Yes, all the music is actually pre-recorded, but since Sleaford Mods, I reckon even that distinction is up-for-grabs...) The thing the piece is most influenced by is pretty transparently the work of Slovenian band extraordinaire Laibach. Not just the music, but the incredible video-projection onslaught.  I mean, it is *really* full-on. Like watching a strobe light for an hour, but with pictures.  And pictures superimposed over the performers/performance so that everything feels part of the same machine.  

A Slovenian colleague said this aspect of the piece caused him most intellectual distress. This onslaught of very modern, new video technology being used to evoke/re-create a much art movement’s aesthetic, to unearth an even older theatre piece, and to explore even older conditions of warfare and economics.

Oh, yes, the piece is basically about “the military industrial complex”, in case you were wondering.

“Songs” (or *scenes*) include: an incredibly comprehensive list of wars, listing all the antagonists (and, my God, the British Empire features in a shameful number of them); something that’s maybe a cut-up of different speeches and slogans by politicians that’s the best one of those I’ve seen; and some industrial music made essentially by slamming bits of the metal framed set around.

If I’m blunt/honest, I could probably tell you that I’d seen a fair few of these devices before, sometimes even in indifferent student devised work. However, that would be grossly unfair. This is a powerful bit of work that also manages the neat trick of being enormous fun at the same time (as long as you like industrial music). It reminded me most powerfully that we in Britain tend to relegate music in theatre to “atmosphere” and scene changes (Mitchell’s Cleansed notwithstanding). Or, perhaps: we rarely foreground anything that sounds like this in “musical theatre”. Imagine if we had “musicals” that sounded more like post-punk than easy listening...

 As you can probably see, I’ve fallen a bit in love with the Slovenian way of doing things...

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