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world theatre festival


15 minutes of fame & death after supper

kathryn kelly: brisbane powerhouse, 2013 world theatre festival


Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good), courtesy the artists Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good), courtesy the artists
LET ME SHARE WITH YOU TWO IMAGES THAT SUM UP THE ELECTRIC CARNIVAL THAT WAS THIS YEAR’S SUBLIMELY PROGRAMMED WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL.

The first involved me trying to explain to a bemused and bespectacled WTF patron what the dazed man covered in peanut butter was doing as he lurched from renowned American academic and director Richard Schechner’s workshop to a nearby toilet.

The second involved the same patron simulating oral sex onstage with German sex kitten Laura Tonke in Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good) and looking like she was having the night of her life.

The premise of Kitchen is deceptively simple. The audience is greeted by the three members of the Gob Squad collective who are on tour. We are asked to walk behind the large screen installed onstage and inspect three sets: a bed, a kitchen and a scrim. Once settled in our seats, the show begins and we discover that each set is based on a seminal Warhol pop film: Sleep (1963), Kitchen (1965) and Screen Tests (1964-66). Live footage is streamed onto the giant screen as the performers attempt to recreate each film: squabbling, flirting, remonstrating and philosophising with each other. “Everything began here,” Gob Squad’s Bastian Trost whispers seductively to the audience while appearing in saturated black and white close-up. Across the duration of the show, the initial premise is skillfully deconstructed. Three audience members are co-opted into playing the performers’ roles, deftly instructed by them via head-piece to enact the show’s climax: a post-Warhol, hyper-reality where the “real audience member” celebrity has superceded the performers’ increasingly petulant antics.

Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good) Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good)
courtesy the artists
Gob Squad was as assured and expert as its reputation promised. The show was flawlessly executed, the technology so integrated into the performance it seemed to melt away: I have never been less conscious of a screen onstage. Each performer was dextrous in coaxing wincingly vulnerable admissions from the audience without it seeming inappropriate. The melding of pop sensibility, witty one-liners and the homage to Warhol was a spoonful of sugar that made the critique of our celebrity-drenched, mediated culture go down unnoticed. The company’s unique creative methodology, collective institutional structure and resulting polish and professionalism make for a seamlessly entertaining theatrical experience.

The helpful WTF program suggested that Kitchen patrons would also enjoy Reckless Sleepers’ The Last Supper. Indeed, both companies are trans-European and were founded in that post-dramatic eruption of energy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, energy that Reckless Sleepers’ founder Mole Wetherell describes as “a reaction to proper theatre in big places” (www.reckless-sleepers.co.uk).

Unlike the cheerful, polyglot, technology-driven Gob Squad, Reckless Sleepers’ work has more of a literary and mannered atmosphere with a deliberately anti-theatrical agenda, more akin to the live art manifesto of British company Forced Entertainment. The Last Supper is one of their older works, commissioned in 2004 and recently revived. As in Kitchen, the audience is greeted by a performer, Mole Wetherell in formal attire but with noticeably dusty bare feet. We are courteously given a number and the other two performers, Leen Dewilde and Tim Ingram, lead us to long narrow tables in a square configuration, marked with seemingly random numbers.

The performers fill our glasses with wine and then adjourn to their table, pre-set with red wine, scripts, apples and short stacks of square paper the size of palm cards. They begin a series of toasts. The tone is muted, ironic, with a slowly building undertone of hysteria and menace. At intervals, marked by the performers with a sense of weary collusion, they read quotations from their stack, pause, wrap the paper into delicate bundles, tip their heads back slowly and ‘eat the words’ of the famous dead they have just quoted. Between toasts and consumption, unobtrusive waiters appear with plates of food assigned to the numbers at respective tables: the final death row meals of various Texan prisoners in the 1990s. The florid and eccentric meal requests—liver and burger, pickle and pie—make this ghoulish experience the most alive part of the proceedings, in contrast with the detached manner of the performers as they read from their scripts.

I had been really looking forward to this show since, like Gob Squad, Reckless Sleepers’ reputation precedes them. However, The Last Supper felt like a revived work that had somehow lost its initial zeitgeist. The deliberately hackneyed choices of the kitsch Texan death row meals and the great clichés of deathbed (yes, we did Elvis and Marilyn, Che Guevara and Trotsky, Rasputin and Da Vinci) felt lazy rather than biting. There seemed very little at risk for a form whose traditions thrive on experimentation and that sense of audience discomfort at a game being played where the rules are not necessarily understood. I kept waiting for the turn, or the retreat, or even the unravelling of the carefully formal mise en scène. While l really enjoyed the creamy intensity of Leen Dewilde’s performance, the tang of the red wine and the evident intellect and craft of Wetherell’s script, I was shocked when the show stopped, almost petering out. I felt deflated. Perhaps this was an intentional anti-ritual demonstrating that last meals are as mundane as any, whatever faded glamour or religious intensity we might try to attach to them?

It was a privilege, nonetheless, to see iconic Gob Squad and Reckless Sleepers’ repertoire co-terminously and in the broader context of the savvy international programming of this year’s fabulous World Theatre Festival.


See Osunwunmi’s account of Reckless Sleepers’ String Section as part of In Between Time, Bristol.

World Theatre Festival 2013, Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve never had it so good), devisors, performers Johanna Freiburg, Sean Patten, Sharon Smith, Berit Stumpf, Nina Tecklenburg, Sarah Thom, Laura Tonke, Bastian Trost, Simon Will, video Miles Chalcraft, Martin Cooper, sound Jeff McGrory, Jeffrey Fisher, dramaturgy: Christina Runge; Reckless Sleepers, The Last Supper, writer, designer Mole Wetherell, devisors, performers Tim Ingram, Leen Dewilde, Mole Wetherell; Brisbane Powerhouse, both shows, February 20-24

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 44

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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