Friday, 8 May 2009


8/5/09, Barbican (Pit)

1 hr 30 mins. A disappointing dud. The latest devised piece by Improbable, who have been going for aeons (well, since 1996) but whose work I don't think we've ever seen*. A series of ruminations on the god Pan, in mythology and in real life.

There was a great deal of brown paper, used to create both props and set: wide vertical strips, forming a curtain at the front that could be raised and lowered and doubled at one stage as the sails of a ship; horizontal strips ditto which doubled as a vertical bed, the actors' heads popping up between two sheets and "lying" as on a pillow in a rectangle of light.

There was a rather fetching puppet (also brown paper) of Pan. There were a number of monologues about the (supposed) real lives of the cast: one actress described behaving outrageously with her girlfriend in the gardens at Blenheim Palace on Family Day; another explained she was a former aerialist who wanted to be a proper actress (though that didn't stop her doing a little light aerial work in this piece); Phelim McDermott, playing both Pan and a modern man (lecherous, lonely, inadequate), told us a shaggy dog story about sleeping with 147 people and tracking down the 148th, a girl from his schooldays, in Australia. And so on.

Like a lot of devised pieces it lacked narrative or anything remotely resembling a structure. There were some nice touches. They included Phelim charging about as Pan with a pair of brown paper horns, a brown paper Mr Punch chin and a vast wicker phallus far too heavy for him; a rather amusing sequence in which he produced scores of self-help books from brown paper carrier bags, reading out their (absurd) titles as he did so; another sequence in which the three "nymphs" sat and stood with brown paper bags on their heads onto which video images of their faces were projected while Phelim... did what? Can't remember, though I can remember the visuals, and that he asked them afterwards what they'd seen inside their bags.

The projections generally were a high point. There were some nice forest effects. At one point the vertical strips representing a front curtain were pulled up backwards, to reveal a video projection on the back wall of a curtain which was likewise pulled up, and then another curtain behind that, and so on. There was a shadow puppet sequence, with a giant Pan and tiny naked figures cavorting and copulating above him.

Top marks for the visuals, then; two out of ten for content.

* Wrong. We saw Theatre of Blood at the National, which I seem to recall had a lot more going for it but was still a bit flimsy.

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