Tuesday, 17 November 2009


13/11/09, Barbican Pit

3hrs. A big, baggy, sprawling devised piece with lots of nice ideas, some toe-curling moments (especially at the start: as we walked in two of the cast were singing plangent country-style songs, she singing, he on guitar, and she welcoming us with a forced "in character" and "humorous" shtick) and a pressing need for a good editor or director to cut the thing down.

The scene: rebuilding post-Katrina New Orleans. A young architect, trying to implement her dead father's vision for a new kind of residential development, pitches up in a bar full of weirdos straight out of Tennessee Williams. They include Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind. She is forced into a corset, along with most of the other female characters.

The best bit of the show was the deconstruction of GWTW (film and book) which made sense even to someone who's never seen the one or read the other. (Curious how much Gone With the Wind and other popular fictions permeate the general cultural atmosphere.) A caricature Hollywood producer is making a new film of the book with a black director who finds himself drawn to the novel's ambivalent "racism". There's a fine scene in which the director himself plays "Uncle Peter", a freed slave post-bellum, still driving Scarlett, and they pass a yankee officer's wife who asks for advice on where to get a decent servant, declaring she wants a white one and will have nothing to do with niggers. I assume it's in the book; whether it is or not it's a clever, uncomfortable scene which contrasts two different kinds of racism, the naked kind of the ignorant northerners, and a subtler kind akin to Victorian paternalism exhibited by Scarlett and her kind.

We see several chunks from the book-film; we see Scarlett herself, suitably spitfire-like; and several contemporary characters (women and men alike, the latter dressed in full skirts and corsets) who want to be Scarlett. La Mitchell is played as a knowing, no-nonsense kind of woman, tolerantly putting up with the strange ways of the moderns and defending "her" South against all the contemporary charges.

The second half lost its way a bit. There was a scene with a young woman who wants to be Scarlett who takes up with a filling station attendant en route to New Orleans to audition for some GWTW pageant; there's the architect, gradually losing it; there's a scene with a fire which destroys the only remaining old and "authentic" New Orleans house in her new development; and so on.

It would have been twice as effective at half the length, but it had its moments. The set was gradually demolished as the show progressed. There were touches of the absurd (the door through which the architect enters in scene one is blocked by a sheet of wood each time she opens it to try and leave, but not when the other characters want to go). And the (all-white) cast were mostly good-to-very good, and in some cases remarkable versatile.

They call thesmelves TEAM (it stands for Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) and this was a coproduction with the National Theatre of Scotland, among others, though it had nothing at all to do with Scotland.

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