Friday, 11 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Composed - The Camden People's Theatre, London.


Newcastle-based Rosa Postlethwaite is an artist, dramaturg and producer, describing herself as being “on the boundary of theatre and live art”. Her one woman show ‘Composed’, currently doing a short run at the Camden People’s Theatre is “an investigation into social conventions, dealing with...revved up entrepreneurial spiel and” (crucially) “whether or not you’re asking for it”. It’s a show that can be interpreted in many ways, but to my mind very much brings to the forefront elements of the ‘me too’ movement - and how issues that this addresses have been played out in the theatre industry (and beyond). This is 50 minutes of what is justifiably billed as “subversive humour that interrogates theatre rituals, fantasy and institutional violence”.

‘Composed’ consists in visual terms of an empty space, a backdrop that consists only of text that describes the minutiae of both the action and dialogue, and a voice-over that narrates Postlethwaite’s every move. She appears, leaves and reappears many times, dressed from head to toe in a smart red suit, red boots and an unfailingly deadpan delivery - a bold, sardonic and at times alarming presence. As ‘Master of Ceremonies’ we are treated to a sequence of weirdly engaging activities - firstly the act of thanking her sponsors (making hilarious references to such beneficiaries as The Leicester and Rutland Freemasons who ‘sponsored’ her £5 something an hour to slap gravy on people’s plates; the student loans company whom she hasn’t seen for a while and is unlikely to in the near future; and even the Queen - with her “laundered” yet “stainless” money. And then an audience participatory workout - lots of hand-rubbing and leaning back “an inch closer to the equator”. The accompanying music makes us feel like we’re at a '90's club night with a comedy DJ on the decks.

The tone effectively metamorphoses with precision-timing from light-hearted to menacing, from hilarious to contentious, as the MC’s delivery progressively becomes more sinister. A ‘fictional’ member of the audience is taunted with phrases like “I can see you! How old are you? Where are you heading after this? Why are you single? WHY DID YOU PRETEND YOU WERE INTERESTED?” All with a horribly familiar ring no doubt, to many of the ‘real’ people watching. The verging on monotonal delivery still sustained, the mood nonetheless revs up a few notches: a transport style announcement transitions into a ‘recording’ of someone - (a woman?) - clearly being attacked: disturbing, shocking and eerily real. And when we are ultimately informed that the “last act” can’t come on - a list of excuses is given that blatantly reflects the experience of those who are both overlooked and mistreated in the profession. A more common occurrence than not.

‘Composed’ is a highly abstract but very impactful 50 minutes of live performance. Addressing the issues brutally and insightfully without drawing us into a character or narrative as such; this is ‘alienation’ at its finest. Indeed one of Theatre’s original political practitioners Brecht, I suspect, would be praiseworthy of this experience which is both immersive and distancing - distilling the reality of basic inequality and the intimidation that goes along with that, without in any way diluting the stark reality. In essence, Rosa Poslethwaite has created a very enjoyable yet disturbingly thought-provoking unique piece of theatre.

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 10/10/19

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