Monday, 13 April 2009


8/04/09, Barbican

I agree with Lyn Gardner:

Oddly, the same print edition of the paper, on a news page, ran a picture from the production, clearly a space filler, with the most minimal caption (above).

To begin with it felt like watching a film, one of those incredibly slow-moving continental films of the 1970s, an impression reinforced by the amplified dialogue and naturalistic set and inadequate lighting. It was a distancing device, like the captions in a later scene projected onto a front gauze, telling us what the characters are about to do. And the elaborate set-changes: after the first (brief) scene shadowy figures come on and reconfigure the set completely, transforming it from the living room of an affluent middle-class Italian household to a child's bedroom; after the second scene the entire set is hoisted into the flies, revealing the downstairs living room in darkness with a gigantic robot toy, which the child comes downstairs and addresses; and so on.

I was bored and impatient and puzzled. Then, just as we're all completely alienated, coughing and shuffling, the purpose becomes clear. It is all a preliminary to the main event. He forces us to listen to the amplified sounds of a child being raped, off stage. The theatre falls completely silent. (Or so I thought: D said a few people left, though I didn't hear them; I did notice two who left in the scene change that immediately followed. I might have done the same if we weren't slap bang in the middle of a row.) It is breathtakingly audacious, reveals a staggering command of theatrical technique (not to mention a huge budget) and is utterly repellant.

After that... there is more, though I struggle to recall it. The man comes downstairs and sits, exhausted. The little boy comes downstairs and sits on his knee and cuddles him. Then, though I can't quite remember how, the man and the room disappear leaving the little boy in front of a dark curtain with a huge circular window against which he stands silhouetted as huge brightly lit flowers pass across in a fantastical pageant. Visually stunning, and apparently meaningless.

Then the boy leaves, the curtain rises and we find the boy, now played by a grown man in short trousers, and an actor with cerebral palsy playing the father; he writhes and twitches on the floor. As D remarked, "You never know when people are acting." He wasn't. Roles have been reversed somehow, but to what end or for what purpose I could not grasp.

Part of me fears that failure to appreciate Castellucci is a sign of terminal philistinism. He exhibits theatrical skill and imagination of a high order. But part of me thinks such skill and imagination need harnessing to some kind of narrative or argument to have real impact... and that Castellucci's principal aim seems to be to shock and revolt. An old-fashioned example of self-indulgent avant-gardeism with few redeeming features.

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