Drew Taylor’s Somewhere New Award-winner Avoidable Climbing is – perhaps unavoidably – a patchwork of theatrical catharses. A rickety knitting-together of the frustrations and impotencies we’re all feeling in the face of this belief-beggaring moment of the 21st century. But, where the storytelling is slight, the experience models a warm, authentic kind of inclusivity and generosity that we could probably all do with getting on board with this side of the Trumpocalypse.
Performed by Isobel McArthur and David Rankine – both of them exuding friendliness and endearing self-deprecation by the bucket-load – Avoidable Climbing is Taylor’s deconstruction of a sorry political tale we all know too well by now: The Song of The Charismatic Man Who Wants To Rule The World. Yep, we’re going to talk about Hitler. We’re going to talk about Kim Jong-un and we’re gonna talk about Trump. Apparently they’re not so different.
Luckily, putting politics to music is something of a calling card of Taylor’s (see 2014’s uplifting post-indy ref HOWL(ing)) and he manages to steer away from earnest political agonising towards something more enjoyable. A collage of songs, spoken word, a wee bit of drama and… a whole lot of porridge.
Taylor, McArthur and Rankine take every opportunity to interject fun into proceedings. There’s Taylor Swift, tambourines and tall men in sequinned dresses. So, the serious moments, when they come, really stick. In pretty much everything the audience are invited to join in, with opportunities to get on stage and be part of the tale, embodying in a small way the kind of communal politics we’re rediscovering via protest marches and grassroots campaigning. But, we don’t have to. Nothing is forced and the performers are savvy enough to work around our weirdly reticent press-night audience with charm and generosity.
It’s this huddling-around, however, that gives Avoidable Climbing the definite feel of preaching to the choir. Taylor as much as admits this himself, in a section that surveys the audience for divergent opinions like ‘should women have equal rights’ and ‘should gay people be allowed to teach’. This acknowledgement of the homogeneity of the audience – we’re mostly all white, middle-class youngish folk seeking out performance art from a well-established Glasgow theatre venue – strips the show of some of its power and results in it being more campfire catharsis than call-to-arms. Isobel McArthur’s plaintive rendition of Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Motherfucking Asshole is the emotional landscape of the entire production wrapped up into one communal singalong.
Avoidable Climbing feels like an outworking of the tearful cuddles, angry pub debates with mates and witty protest signage we’ve been thinking up for three months now. But, action needs to follow reflection. It’s not enough to know that the people who voted in Trump (and Hitler) weren’t all mini Yiannopouloses. The ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ would yield a far more interesting performance. Again, to his credit, Taylor seems to know this. His frustrated recorded monologue near the conclusion of the show aches with sadness; his simultaneous love of and disappointment in humanity; his desperation to understand.
So, a starting point. An entertaining, cathartic, tearful hug of an evening. But, sometime soon we need to stop comforting ourselves and get out and build some bridges with everyday people who make porridge and read papers and have kids and voted Hitler. That chance to step into another person’s world for an hour and a half is one of the most powerful things theatre can do – hopefully Avoidable Climbing is the beginning of a more proactive dialogue.
For more information on Avoidable Climbing, click here.