Stilted performance and theatrical DNA

Caught a show today called Stilted starring Richard Antrobus. Richard is a Rhodes Uni graduate. Some will remember him from the original Bradford version of They Only Come at Night. He’s a fierce physical performer, skillful, determined and seemingly impossible to destroy.

His show is the tale of a stilted performer spirit visiting an actor preparing for a performance off As You Like It. The stilted Antrobus terrorises the inept actor before blowing his mind with an enforced dance duet and by turning the closed circuit video camera on the audience thereby destroying the comforting fourth wall.

The theatrical arguments contained are the stuff of Pirandello and those meta theatre shows you see at the end of MA courses in performance. It’s not that they are wrong, or uninteresting- just well travelled roads.

However what made the show so very entertaining and exciting was the sheer level of physical skill. They train them like that at Rhodes- full of inventiveness and what appears to be a complete disregard for physical well being. Stilted Richard leaps over tables, turning full circle around a raised bed before leaping on to a full size trampoline. In a studio theatre.

There seems to be some sort of silk route between Rhodes and West Yorkshire- we’ve had a few of the guys from here over there at different points the last few years. I’m by no means saying that they have all been head and shoulders better than the UK performers but it has to be said that, whatever their other attributes, they have all to a man been incredibly well trained clowns and physical performers- and certainly mime skills that you just don’t see in the UK often enough given how many mime and clown shows we see in our venues.

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(These chaps were insistent I took their photo- it’s a disturbing image)

It was interesting to see Stilted alongside Extra- Ordinary (they share a venue). Not simply because of the contrasting images of legless Dave Toole and stilted Richard Antrobus. The two shows mine the same material- why perform? for whom? and how much of yourself do you take on stage, and how much do you leave behind.
One of the things becoming clearer from the reception of Extra-Ordinary is that one of the elements marking it out as so very different and strange is ‘honesty’. The idea of the mask falling away and seeing the performer just standing there- or even not wearing one in the first place. Whilst Stilted recognised the reality of the audience and the venue they did so from firmly within a theatrical conceit; they removed the fourth wall. Extra-Ordinary doesn’t bother having one in the first place; Lucy running out to greet the audience, stopping the introductory video within the first few moments.

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There are a couple of moments that never fail to stop the audience dead in Extra-Ordinary. When Dave turns to Lucy and asks, “aren’t you a bit hefty to be a dancer.” And when Lucy later, in tears with half a ridiculous costume on, turns to the audience and sobs “I’m sorry I wanted this to be perfect”. In both those moments I swear if you could stop the show and ask the audience honestly they would tell you they thought the show has gone off the tracks.

I was thinking a lot about how this element of biography- of a style performance owing more to Live Art than theatre- has so confused and delighted the audience here. These are a theatrical literate, creative community of people and yet I have seem no signs of more live art style performances. God in Edinburgh you can’t move for a Le Coq graduate standing in a studio writing the names of every person he has ever slept with on his naked body.

At Development Lab in Bradford the programme endeavours to meet the full range of performance. From a painfully personal Chris Goode installation to a new four hander by Mark Catley. Extra-Ordinary sits within this spectrum almost centrally.

And I wonder whether- whilst undoubtedly Lucy brought her physical skills over to West Yorkshire to the betterment of all she works for- that on this home coming here to Grahamstown, her theatrical genetics haven’t been inexorably altered by all those long nights in university studios whilst we tried to work out how on earth you make a show out of 300 photos, a box of chalk, 1 digital projector, a polaroid camera, 4 candles and 21 performers. Only 1 of whom can dance.

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This puppet is from a show called Giant Match. We’re off to see it later in the week. Stupidly excited about that!

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