Monday, 16 February 2004

An exercise in futility

Review by William Guipe in West End Weekly:

When Façade was first performed, Edith Sitwell declaimed her poems through a megaphone from behind a screen. In the new production of Istvan Groyer’s Melamine-Faced Chipboard which opened last night at the Alice B Toklas theatre, a clever variation of this arrangement keeps the cast behind a screen but reverses the megaphone: they cannot be heard, but can hear every word spoken in the audience. A further neat twist is that the man who works the lights (or rather, light) is prominently placed and fitted with a lapel microphone, so that as he fumbles incompetently with the console his muttered obscenities resound throughout the auditorium.

   The play is, of course, about incomprehensibility and the total futility of all forms of human intercourse. Nine Bulgarian dyslexics gather together in a disused boot-polish factory and ruminate about their ailments and their relationships. Enmities develop, alliances form and collapse, wild schemes are mooted, argued over and finally abandoned. All this comes across more powerfully than in any previous production of the play I have ever seen, the point – or lack of point – being magically reinforced by the complete invisibility and inaudibility of the actors.

   I was pleased to have the opportunity of seeing this fine piece performed by what may, for all I know, be an excellent cast, and to realise that its previous obscurity (it flopped in Florence and was booed in Budapest) was undeserved.

   I urge you to go and see this play before it closes on Saturday, though you will not find this easy because the Alice B Toklas is very difficult to find even for those who know Hoxton well. If you have to give up the search, you may comfort yourself with the thought that this is just what was intended, a wry comment on the theme of the play: we cannot locate, we do not know why, and trying to find out is, ultimately, futile.

   Groyer always said that he was trying to offer an experience which is totally inaccessible not just to the uncultured but to everyone including intellectuals, thus demonstrating that the idea of any kind of thought or emotion being transmitted from one person to another is a dangerous myth, and that the medium is the message only in the sense that neither has any significance whatsoever.

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