Friday, 15 June 2018

Anyone's Guess How We Got Here - The Royal Exchange, Manchester.

Household debt is a serious issue in Britain. According to statistics from the Jubilee Debt Campaign, three million households are affected by the crisis, people are paying more than a quarter of their income on debt repayments.

Barrel Organ presented a story about two people (two friends?) driving to a funeral, one of them stopped by her childhood home along the way. She reminiscenced about the events that happened here, and she's come back to reclaim what she buried. This is a show about the past, debt, and eviction.

From the very start, two actresses were onstage as the audience entered. They were walking and waiting for the show to begin, not doing anything important, and the longer this went on for, the more clumsy it looked. The performance began, and we were told about the initial context surrounding the story and the car journey. There was an effective nod to the Robin Hood fable, as they drove through Nottingham. Both of them played car games to pass the time and re-created scenes from Thelma and Louise. I felt this went on too long.

What followed was one of the actresses's return to her childhood home; something traumatic happened here. Was there a body under the floorboards? Apparently the script was meant to be intentionally ambiguous, with lots of loose story threads. This created an intense feeling of anxiety and pressure, like how you might feel bearing the weight of mountainous debt on your shoulders. But in all honesty, Jack Perkins' script was too fragmented, too random, and too messy. This made it very difficult to decipher the story and made it frustrating to watch. I'm very aware that contemporary performance demands the engagement of the audience to make sense of the work and decode its meaning, however at times this show made it almost impossible to do so. Thankfully, the mildly humorous epilogue, about ideally cancelling all credit cards, provided a little more context.

As for the company's performance, there were so many opportunities to play with the delivery of the text and find different ways to say things, but they simply did not do it. Most of the time, their performances lacked in energy, drive, and I'd even say commitment to the action and text. More eye contact could have been given to the audience and some of the movement direction was awkward. For example, in the duologue moments directed out to the audience, the two actresses stood rather informally and in a slouching manner. There were LED lighting bars on the stage floor which provided somewhat atmospheric lighting, although why couldn't they have taken full advantage of the lighting rig on the ceiling?

I would be very interested in hearing other audience member's views on this show, to learn about what they got from watching it. Unfortunately, this performance failed to grip me. I found it rather flat, confusing, and unfocused. This was meant to be a show about people struggling with debt, but traveled off on a tangent turning it into some kind of haunted-house story. I expected something more coherent.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 14/6/18

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